The rate of suicide attempts, similar to that of suicide, has increased in the Army over the past decade, noted lead author Robert Uranso, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., and collaborators. However, the researchers added, suicide attempts by Army members have been studied less than completed suicides among this population, despite the potential for a suicide attempt to be a gateway to dying by suicide.
In an effort to shed more light on factors associated with suicide attempts among Army soldiers, Uranaso and colleagues gathered the health information of 163,178 soldiers to examine risk factors and timing of suicide attempts by those who were currently deployed, previously deployed, or never deployed in the period 2004 through 2009. The work is part of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS).
The results showed that 9,650 of the study's participants had attempted suicide. The 40.4 percent of soldiers who had never been deployed accounted for 61.1% of the enlisted soldiers who attempted suicide. Previously deployed soldiers accounted for 29.2% of the suicide attempts, and currently deployed soldiers accounted for about 10%. The risk for suicide attempts among soldiers who never deployed was highest within the second month of service; the risk among soldiers on their first deployment was highest in the sixth month of deployment; and the risk among soldiers who had been deployed was highest five months after their return.
Regardless of deployment status, suicide attempts were more likely to occur among soldiers who were women, were in the first two years of Army service, or had a mental illness (in accordance with ICD-9 criteria) in the previous month. Soldiers with one previous deployment were at higher risk of attempting suicide if they screened positive for depression or posttraumatic stress disorder after they returned from deployment, especially at a follow-up screening about four to six months later.
“Deployment context is important in identifying SA [suicide attempt] risk among Army-enlisted soldiers,” wrote the researchers. “Understanding the association between suicide attempts and deployment, as well as method and timing of suicide attempts, can assist in developing interventions.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Troops Face Complex, but Not Inevitable, Mental Health Issues.”