Underreporting of Suicidal Ideation among U.S. Army Personnel

March 23, 2018

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Suicide rates among active duty U.S. Army personnel have increased since 2004. In response, the U.S. military now assesses for suicide risk immediately upon return from deployment and again 90 to 180 days later. Researchers found that these screening procedures likely only identify one in seven Army personnel experiencing suicidal ideation (SI).

Active U.S. Army personnel at two military posts were asked to report on current SI three times during their post-deployment health assessments: (1) on a research questionnaire linked to their post-deployment health report; (2) through a verbal interview with a clinician during their health assessment; and (3) on an anonymous survey. Researchers found that 5.1% of respondents reported SI on the anonymous survey, compared with 3.0% on the linked research assessment and .09% on the verbal interview. Of those who reported past-month SI on the anonymous survey, 56.4% indicated that they had not disclosed their thoughts to anyone.

The timing and wording of the suicide assessment questions differed across methods, possibly accounting for some of the differences in SI reporting. However, the authors suggested that enough evidence exists to support a review of current U.S. Army procedures for suicide screening to ensure accurate identification of those at risk.

Vannoy, S. D., Andrews, B. K., Atkins, D. C., Dondanville, K. A., Young-McCaughan, S., & Peterson, A. L. (2017). Under reporting of suicide ideation in U.S. Army population screening: An ongoing challenge. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 47(6), 723–728.