Suicides Among U.S. Soldiers Surge 80% to Surpass Civilians
U.S. Army suicides surpassed the rate for similar civilians in 2008 after an 80 percent surge during the five years following major troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
About 40 percent of the suicides in 2008 may be associated with deployments to those countries, according to the report published yesterday in the journal Injury Prevention. The U.S. began committing troops in 2003. In 2008, the estimate of the rate for active soldiers was higher than the rate for civilians of similar age and sex.
The increase is “unprecedented in over 30 years of U.S. Army records,” according to a statement by the U.S. Army Public Health Command, which focuses on promoting the health of soldiers, military retirees and their families. The Army Medical organization conducted the research.
As much as half of the suicides that occurred in 2008 may have been related to the commitment of troops, according to the report. Soldiers between the ages of 18 and 24 accounted for 45 percent of the deaths, and 54 percent were among personnel of low rank. About two-thirds had been deployed in active combat.
“The recent increase in suicide rates may be viewed as the tip of the ‘mental health iceberg,’ signaling more prevalent underlying mental health problems,” Kathleen Bachynski of the Health Command’s Injury Prevention Program in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, wrote in the study.
The Army has tried to prevent suicides in the past year through training, a suicide prevention task force, and a day of standing down from official duties to focus on suicide prevention. Top military officials including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates have encouraged military personnel to seek counseling.
The suicides began to rise after 2004, according to the study. During 2007 and 2008, 255 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 person years. That compares to an expected rate of 12 per 100,000 person years, the study said.
Civilian rates adjusted to the gender structure of the U.S. Army, including age and sex, were about 18 per 100,000 in 2008, the study said.
The increase among soldiers tracked with a rise in mental- health issues, and suicides were higher among those who had been diagnosed with mental disorders in the preceding year, according to the study.
Those admitted to a hospital for a mental-health disorder were more than 15 times as likely to commit suicide as those who hadn’t been. Hospital admissions for mental-health reasons rose from 7.4 per 1,000 to 14 per 1,000 in 2008.
Diagnoses linked to a higher suicide risk included depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance misuse, along with psychosis and adjustment disorders.
Those with major depression were more than 11 times as likely to commit suicide, while those with anxiety disorders were 10 times as likely.
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