Study Finds No Connection Between Military Deployment And Suicide
A new study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has found that the commonly assumed link between military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and higher rates of suicide simply does not exist.
The landmark study used a dataset encompassing all 3.9 million members of the U.S. military from October 7, 2001, to December 31, 2007, with the goal of determining the impact Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have had on suicide rates. By December 31, 2009, there were 5,041 recorded suicides in total.
Over the last decade, suicide rates in certain parts of the military have almost doubled. Traditionally, the blame has been placed on a decade of military deployments in the Middle East, but this study breaks all previously held assumptions.
Researchers discovered that there is no link between the two deployments and climbing suicide rates. For those deployed, the suicide rate was 18.86 per 100,000 person-years, and for those who did not deploy, the rate was 17.78.
One of the authors, Mark A. Reger, deputy director at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, called the findings counterintuitive, but speculated that the reason there’s no link is because those deployed may be more mentally fit.
While deployment didn’t appear to indicate risk of suicide, some other patterns emerged. Personnel who leave the military prior to the end of their contracts have a 63 percent higher chance of suicide compared to those who remain a part of the service. Further, the fewer total years a person spends in the military, the more likely it is that person will commit suicide.
Again, researchers emphasized it’s not clear exactly why. It could be because the military provides an immersive sense of identity and social support which may be hard to duplicate in the civilian sphere.
Researchers also discovered that there’s a striking difference between suicide rates after discharge. Those who are dishonorably discharged face a 21 percent higher suicide rate than those honorably discharged. Among the branches of the military, suicide rates are not distributed equally. Army and Marine Corps personnel are 25 percent more likely to commit suicide when compared to the Air Force and Navy.
However, some items that may be linked to suicide were not included in the study, such as combat injuries or exposure, and mental health, which could affect the results.
“This has important policy implications,” Rajeev Ramchand, behavioral health scientist at RAND Corporation, told The New York Times. “We have a relatively small group, but the study shows it is a group that is at very high risk. And what are we doing to help them? Not much.”
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