Preventing Suicide in the Military

May 09, 2013

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

A pair of U.S. Army researchers explored the challenges of preventing military suicide in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association dedicated to violence and human rights. This “Viewpoint” piece concluded that “the most important challenges in suicide prevention are stigma surrounding mental illness, negative perceptions of treatment, and other barriers (including confidentiality concerns in the military setting) that result in the majority of service members and veterans not accessing care when needed or dropping out prematurely.”

They also recommended that interventions and research focus on patient engagement and satisfaction, screening in primary care, coordinating care (including ensuring that timely appointments are available), and effective treatment (including strategies that reinforce the protective effects of connectedness with family and peers). The authors point out that suicide rates in the Army and Marine Corps nearly doubled between 2005 and 2009 – a dramatic difference from the years before the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the suicide rates in the U.S. military were consistently 25 percent below that of civilians. These dramatic increases have not been seen in the Navy or Air Force or among civilians. The authors suggest that the explanation of the increase may be “the cumulative strain from the protracted war effort,” although research has not confirmed this. They recommend research dedicated to pinpointing which components of effective military suicide prevention programs (such as that developed by the Air Force) contribute to their success.

SPRC Resource Note

SPRC Director Jerry Reed’s April blog post discussed his March 2013 testimony on preventing suicide in the military during a hearing held by the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee. Links to a webcast of the hearing and transcripts of the testimony are included.

Jerry’s April Blog Posting

For more information

Hoge, C. W., & Castro, C. A. (2012). Preventing suicides in U.S. service members and veterans: Concerns after a decade of war. JAMA, 308(7), 671-672.