According to a study conducted by US Army Public Health Command, the number of suicides committed among US army personnel increased 80% between 2004 and 2008. The study is published online in Injury and Prevention.

The researchers explain that approximately 40% of these suicides might be linked to military events after the United States became involved in Iraq.

Starting In 2003, a considerable number of US troops were deployed to Iraq. The US is currently involved in military operations in Afghanistan.

Using data gathered from the Army Behavioral Health Integrated Data Environment (ABHIDE), the researchers based their findings on suicide trends among US army personnel from 1997 to 2008. From numerous military sources, the ABHIDE obtains data on suicides as well as clinical consultation, diagnoses, and treatment given.

Results from the evaluation demonstrated that although suicide rates among army personnel on active duty were in keeping with predicted trends between 1997 and 2003, and had even decreased a little, they started to increase after 2004 and rose by over 80% by 2008.

Suicide rates among army personnel surpassed similar rates among the civilian population, which during this period, had remained somewhat stable.

255 soldiers on active duty committed suicide between 2007 and 2008, equal to an actual suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 person years. The predicted rate was 12 per 100,000 person years.

Compared with suicide rates in 2008, evaluation of the historical trends suggested that 39% of these suicides might be linked to military events after the United States involvement in Iraq in 2003.

The researchers found:

  • 45% of suicides were committed by soldiers aged between 18 to 24 years
  • 69% had been deployed in active combat
  • and 54% of suicides were among low rank army personnel

The data revealed that the rise in suicides correlated to a rise in other mental health issues. Among army personnel with a mental illness, suicide rates increased in the following year after diagnosis.

The researchers found that for mental health disorders, outpatient consultations increased almost twofold from 116 per 1,000 person years in 2003 to 216 per 1,000 in 2008. In addition, they found that hospitalizations for these disorders increased from 7.1 per 1,000 in 2003 to 14 per 1,000 in 2008.

Results from the study showed that soldiers hospitalized for a mental health disorder were over 15 times more likely to take their own lives than soldiers who had not. Furthermore, soldiers were nearly 4 times more likely to commit suicide if they had an outpatient consultation for a mental health issue.

According to the researchers, substance misuse, anxiety disorders, personality, depression, psychosis, post-traumatic stress, and adjustment disorders all contributed to an increased suicide risk.

Soldiers suffering with major depression were over 11 times more likely to take their own life, while soldiers with anxiety disorders were 10 times more likely to commit suicide.

In addition, they found that over 1 in 4 army personnel who took their own life had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder (AD). AD is an emotional and behavioral reaction that occurs from being in close proximity to stressful events.

According to the researchers, findings from the study underline the need for enhanced techniques of identifying, treating, and monitoring personnel who are potentially at risk.

They explain that several factors are involved with suicide, and that additional studies are required in order to identify the specific issues that contributed to the increased rates of suicide between 2004 and 2008.

The researchers conclude:

“This increase, unprecedented in over 30 years of US Army records, suggests that approximately 40% of suicides that occurred in 2008 may be associated with post-2003 events following the major commitment of troops to Iraq, in addition to the ongoing operations in Afghanistan.”

Written by Grace Rattue