Soldiers returning from combat are twice as likely to commit suicide as men who have not served in a war, a new study reports.
The study’s scientists urge doctors to keep an eye out for signs of suicidal intentions in personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“With the projected rise in functional impairments and psychiatric morbidity among veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, clinical and community interventions that are directed towards these patients are needed,” the authors conclude in a published report of their research in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Mark Kaplan of Portland State University in Oregon and his colleagues analyzed demographic and other personal-profile information for more than 320,000 men over 18 collected in the nationally-representative National Health Interview Survey. The respondents all resided in the United States, with about one-third having served in the armed forces some time between 1917 and 1994.
The researchers followed the men for 12 years, finding that veterans were twice as likely to die from suicide as men in the general population. However, the post-war soldiers were no more likely than the general population to die from natural or accidental causes.
Suicide risk was highest for veterans who couldn’t participate fully in their post-war daily lives at home and work.
The scientists were surprised to find that formers soldiers who were considered overweight were much less likely to commit suicide than veterans of normal weight. Past research has suggested that a high body-mass-index, used to indicate whether a person is overweight, is associated with lower depression and could result from biological changes such as a boost in serotonin (an anti-depressant chemical).
Veterans were nearly 60 percent more likely to use a gun to kill themselves than those in the general population who committed suicide.
“Clinicians need to be alert for signs of suicidal intent among veterans, as well as their access to firearms," the scientists wrote.