Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Study Points to Soldiers Most Likely to Attempt Suicide Within 30 Days of Suicidal Thoughts

About 3.5% of U.S. Army soldiers who were diagnosed with suicidal thoughts attempted suicide within 30 days of reporting these thoughts, according to a report in AJP in Advance. Those most likely to attempt suicide within 30 days of reporting suicidal thoughts were women, combat medics, individuals with a pre-existing anxiety disorder, and those with a sleep disorder.

“Although the majority of soldiers who attempt suicide have no history of administratively documented ideation, there is a significant minority whose suicidal thoughts are diagnosed prior to their attempt,” wrote Holly B. Herberman Mash, Ph.D., and Robert J. Ursano, M.D., of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues. “This paper importantly speaks to psychiatrists and other mental health care providers who have to make difficult treatment and management decisions for those specifically struggling with suicide ideation,” Ursano noted in a media release.

The researchers analyzed data from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) collected between 2006 and 2009. The authors identified 11,178 active-duty soldiers with medically documented suicidal ideation and no prior medically documented suicide attempts. They examined risk factors for suicide attempt within 30 days of first suicidal ideation including sociodemographic characteristics, psychiatric diagnoses, injuries, history of family violence, and criminal history or history of being victim of crime.

Among soldiers with documented suicidal ideation, 830 (7.4%) attempted suicide and 387 (46.3%) of these did so within 30 days of their ideation. Women with suicidal ideation were 1.3 times more likely than males to attempt suicide in the first 30 days, and combat medics were 1.6 times more likely to attempt suicide than other service members with suicidal ideation.

Additionally, soldiers diagnosed with a sleep disorder on the same day that they were diagnosed with suicidal ideation were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than those without a sleep disorder. Those with a pre-existing anxiety disorder were 1.3 times as likely to attempt suicide as soldiers who did not have that diagnosis.

“Developing screening tools specifically for suicidal ideation may help identify individuals at imminent risk,” the researchers wrote. “Future research should include examination of attempt methods as predictors of imminent attempt risk and the contribution of treatment and treatment-related factors in the transition of ideation to attempt.”

APA President Vivian Pender, M.D., noted that September is Suicide Prevention Month, and said the AJP study will help identify individuals most at risk for suicide. “It is also a reminder that we can all play a role in preventing suicide by learning to recognize signs of distress and reaching out to connect anyone at risk with help,” she said.

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

(Image: iStock/ljubaphoto)


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