Childhood Maltreatment and Suicide Risk in the U.S. Army

December 15, 2017

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A new study of young adults entering the U.S. Army revealed that childhood maltreatment is associated with lifetime suicidal behavior, even after controlling for demographics, other trauma, and mental illness. While the association between childhood maltreatment and suicidal behavior is well-demonstrated in the general population, the association is less understood among military personnel. The findings of this study provide opportunity for focused prevention and targeted intervention in military populations.

The study used data from more than 38,000 new military personnel in basic training, who were enrolled in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (Army STARRS) New Soldiers Study (NSS). The authors assessed the association between childhood maltreatment (i.e., physical or emotional abuse or neglect, and sexual abuse) and suicidal behavior, as measured by the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale.

The results indicated that one in five new soldiers had experienced childhood maltreatment. There were five maltreatment profiles: (a) no maltreatment (81.6%); (b) episodic emotional maltreatment (10.7%); (c) frequent emotional and physical maltreatment (3.6%); (d) episodic emotional and sexual abuse (3.2%); and (e) frequent emotional, physical, and sexual maltreatment (0.9%).

Compared to soldiers with no maltreatment, all of the maltreatment profiles were associated with elevated odds of lifetime suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and planning. Profiles reflecting the most frequent and pervasive maltreatment demonstrated the strongest association with suicidal behaviors. Maltreatment profiles that included sexual abuse were associated with increased odds of some suicidal behaviors compared to those without sexual abuse.

The authors suggested that future research should explore how deployment-related stressors impact the association between childhood maltreatment and suicidal behaviors.

Stein, M. B., Campbell-Sills, L., Ursano, R. J., Rosellini, A. J., Colpe, L. J., He, F., . . . Kessler, R. C. (2017). Childhood maltreatment and lifetime suicidal behaviors among new soldiers in the U.S. Army: Results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry