Suicide among Current and Former Service Members

September 22, 2017

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A study of nearly 3.8 million U.S. military personnel revealed that currently deployed service members were at lower risk of suicide death than service members who had never been deployed. However, suicide risk increased dramatically after service members returned from deployment, and remained high for several years after deployment ended. The authors suggested that being closely connected to a group with a common purpose might protect members of the military from suicide risk during deployment.

The study also found that risk of suicide death increased for all service members when they left the military. This risk was “12 times higher among those who only served for a short time (6 months) before separating,” compared to those who served for longer periods of time. The authors suggested that the elevated risk of suicide after deployment “could reflect the lingering effects of stressful military experiences, the difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life, or a pre-enlistment disposition to death by suicide.”

Other risk factors for suicide death among military personnel included:

  • A current or past history of self-inflicted injuries
  • A current or past diagnosis of a mental health disorder
  • Stressful life events, including divorce and demotion
  • A history of non-drug-related major law violations prior to entering the military

This study highlights the importance of asking about deployment history in clinical settings, and the need for clinicians to be aware of the factors that may place military personnel at higher suicide risk.

Shen, Y.-C., Cunha, J. M., & Williams, T. V. (2016). Time-varying associations of suicide with deployments, mental health conditions, and stressful life events among current and former U.S. military personnel: A retrospective multivariate analysis. Lancet Psychiatry, 3(11), 1039–1048.