Researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies, Salt Lake City, Utah, reported that the suicide risk among people in the military increases according to the number of lifetime traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) they have had. They published their findings in JAMA Psychiatry.

TBI can cause severe deficits in memory, attention and decision-making, it commonly occurs along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

According to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, known as QUERI, an estimated 150,000 American war veterans have been diagnosed with TBI.

The objective of the study, which was led by Craig J. Bryan, Psy.D., A.B.P.P, was “to determine whether suicide risk is more frequent and heightened among military personnel with multiple lifetime TBIs than among those with no TBIs or a single TBI.”

It included a total of 161 deployed military personnel who checked in at a military hospital’s TBI clinic in Iraq for treatment or diagnosis of a possible head injury.

They underwent a clinical interview, physical examination as well as a standardized self-report measure of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The researchers found that patients who have had a higher number of TBIs were at an increased risk of depression and PTSD compared to others.

In addition, those who suffered from multiple TBIs were more likely to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

The incidence of suicidal thoughts among the 161 participants was:

  • 0% among those with no TBIs
  • 6.9% among those who had suffered just one TBI
  • 21.7% among those who had suffered multiple TBIs

The authors concluded:

“Suicide risk is higher among military personnel with more lifetime TBIs, even after controlling for clinical symptom severity. Results suggest that multiple TBIs, which are common among military personnel, may contribute to increased risk for suicide.

War veterans with PTSD are already at a heightened risk of suicidal thoughts compared to the general population, according to research published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

According to a previous study presented at the American Psychological Association’s 119th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., nearly 50 percent of university students who were U.S. military veterans said they had thought of suicide, and 20 percent said they had planned to kill themselves – much higher rates than for college students in general.

A study published in the journal BMC Public Health revealed that an estimated 18 American military veterans take their own lives every day – thousands each year – and those numbers are steadily increasing.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist