April 15, 2015
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Deployment, combat exposure linked to suicidal thoughts, behaviors

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Deployment and exposure to combat were small but significant predictors of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among military personnel and veterans, according to findings from a meta-analysis.

“Despite historical trends for lower suicide rates among U.S. military personnel relative to the U.S. general population, since 2004 the military rate has steadily risen, such that suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among military personnel,” study researcher Craig J. Bryan, PsyD, ABPP, of the University of Utah, and colleagues wrote. “Among military veterans, the relative risk for suicide is approximately 1.5 times higher than for the U.S. general population.”

Craig Bryan

Craig J. Bryan

Bryan and colleagues conducted a review and meta-analysis of 22 published studies exploring the relationship between deployment-related predictors (deployment, deployment to a combat zone, combat experience and exposure to specific combat events) and suicide-related outcomes (suicide ideation, attempt and death).

Across all studies, the effect of deployment-related outcomes on suicide-related outcomes was small but statistically significant. The researchers noted all effects had a large amount of heterogeneity, suggesting different associations between deployment-related outcomes and suicide-related outcomes (P < .0001).

There were three large studies that could significantly alter study findings, so researchers conducted an analysis without these. The results were consistent with the original findings.

“Overall, the statistical relationships between deployment-related variables and suicide-related outcomes tended to be small, suggesting that deployments in general and combat exposure in particular probably do not function as triggering events or proximal risk factors for suicide-related outcomes for most military personnel and veterans,” Bryan and colleagues wrote. “Rather, combat exposure may function as a long-term risk factor that incrementally contributes to the vulnerability for experiencing suicide-related outcomes.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: Healio.com/Psychiatry was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.