Soldiers prone to suicidal tendencies when deputed in units with a history of suicide

Currently, the American military has over 2.5 million serving personnel either on an active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard, as well as over 20 million civilians are apparently veterans. Joining the military and choosing to serve one’s country is a decision that encompasses the risk of injury and death, especially during the times of war.

During combat, people not only witness injuries and other fatalities due to enemy fire, accidents and other war-related events but also face other less understood and less expected, such as trauma, self-inflicted injuries and suicide. According to data published in USA Today, 265 active duty service members committed suicide in 2015.

Suicide and suicidal behaviors among service members have been a prevalent problem in the military service. Suicide rates abruptly increased during conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, surpassing the suicide rates in the general population for the first time in decades.

Active duty personnel, veterans and their families seek and receive health care services in the military, veteran and civilian settings. Over the years, there has been an increased focus on the mental health issues of service members, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide, as well as increased scrutiny of mental health care providers and reinforced efforts to prevent them.

Unit members’ suicide attempt influences suicidal tendencies in other team members

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in July 2017 suggests that soldiers are more likely to attempt suicide if others in their unit have had attempted suicide recently. While injuries from combat and unintentional events have the potential to affect the mental health of fellow members, the study delves into the impact of how a person’s suicidal behavior can influence others.

The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (STARRS) filtered out 9,512 unit members with a history of suicide attempts from the administrative data collected between 2004 and 2009. This sample comprised the following:

  • 4 percent were male
  • 4 percent were 29 years or younger
  • 2 percent were younger than 21 years at the time of joining the army
  • 8 percent were of white ethnicity
  • 6 percent were educated
  • 8 percent were married

When assessing the odds of attempting suicide among army personnel, the study found that:

  • Soldiers were more likely to attempt suicide if assigned to a unit with one or more past-year suicide attempts. These odds increased as the number of unit suicide attempts increased from one to five or more.
  • Soldiers were twice as likely to attempt suicide if there were five or more past-year unit attempts compared to no attempts made. This correlation stood out even upon adjusting for sociodemographic variables, the age of entry into service, duration of service, the status of deployment, occupation and unit size.
  • The researchers point out that unit deaths from combat or suicide did not present a strong correlation to suicide risk among the unit members.

“The findings from this study certainly reflect actionable information, raising tantalizing questions about the influence of military social structure and leadership on suicide risk factors as well as the potential for contagion of suicidal behaviors within Army units,” Charles Hoge, M.D., and Amy Adler, Ph.D., of Walter Reed Army Institute of Reed Army Institute of Research and the Office of the Army Surgeon General wrote in an associated editorial. The authors, however, convey that more research is needed to ascertain if the findings apply to earlier and later periods of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other areas of conflict.

Path to recovery

Suicidal behaviors and attempts among military servicemen are a major cause of concern. The exposure to debilitating mental stressors and other traumatic experiences, such as war, death, etc., inflicts anxiety, exaggerated fears, stress, etc. do not end when individual returns home from war. Apart from suicide, other mental disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety and depression, are often observed among military personnel, especially among veterans.

If you or your loved one is battling the symptoms of mental disorders, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Florida Mental Health Helpline assists in accessing the finest mental disorder treatment in Florida that specializes in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-846-5588 to know more about the treatment for mental disorders in Florida.

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