Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Suicide Rates Peak Among Veterans Shortly After Transition to Civilian Life, Study Finds

Suicide rates among veterans peaked six to 12 months after they left the military, and those at higher risk included veterans who were younger, were male, had a shorter length of service, were not married, or were separated from the Marine Corps or Army, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

“National leaders at the highest levels of the U.S. government have been concerned about suicide rates among service members transitioning to civilian life,” wrote Chandru Ravindran, M.S., of the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention and colleagues. “We believe this cohort study provides much needed data to help inform prevention efforts among this veteran cohort.”

The authors used data from the VA/Department of Defense Identity Repository to identify 1.8 million veterans who served in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. The participants separated (meaning they were either discharged or transitioned to a Reserve component category) from active duty between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2017. Mortality data were obtained through the VA/Department of Defense Mortality Data Repository. Service members were followed for six years from the date they left service.

“Through the end of the study period, 3,030 suicides (2,860 men and 170 women) were identified as having occurred within 6 years of separation from the military,” wrote the authors. “The highest suicide rates were observed in year 1, but they increased over the first 6 months and generally peaked in the 6 to 12 months after separation. This pattern was true for service members who left the Army, Marine Corps, or Air Force; the rates for those who last served in the Navy peaked 3 to 6 months after their transition.”

Veterans who had served in the Marine Corps or Army had a higher risk of suicide compared with those who had left the Navy or Air Force, and male veterans had a higher risk compared with females. The rate of suicide was 4.5 times higher among those who were 17 to 19 years old compared with those who were over 40 when they transitioned from the military. Also, those who had served for fewer than two years had a statistically higher rate of suicide over the study period compared with those who had served longer.

“[W]ithin the high-risk cohort of transitioning service members, suicide prevention resources are especially important in the first year and remain important for at least 6 years given that the rates did not decline substantially within the study period,” the authors wrote. “Prevention efforts may be helpful for younger service members with fewer than 2 years of military service. Furthermore, service branch remains a risk factor for many years after transition and could be examined for more focused suicide prevention efforts.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Brief Test May Help Pinpoint Soldiers Likely to Attempt Suicide.”

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