December 28, 2017
2 min read

Study to examine suicide risk factors among veterans

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In collaboration with America’s Warrior Partnership and The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, researchers from University of Alabama will conduct a 4-year, $2.9 million study to assess risk factors related to suicide, early mortality and self-harm among military veterans.

Led by Karl Hamner, PhD, director of the Office of Evaluation for the College of Education, and David L. Albright, PhD, Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health and associate professor in the School of Social Work, at University of Alabama, researchers hope the study, known as “Operation Deep Dive,” will allow them to learn more about the risk factors at the organizational and community level to help prevent suicides, according to a press release.

“Previous research has focused primarily on individual-level risk factors, like prior suicide attempts, mood disorders, substance abuse and access to lethal means, but suicide is a complex phenomenon, and those factors don’t paint the whole picture,” Albright said in the release.

The investigators will focus on veterans across the spectrum of service, gender and lifespan, using data from America’s Warrior Partnership, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). Importantly, there will be an emphasis on female veterans, who are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide compared with civilian women, according to the release.

Using data from the DOD and the VA will help to identify the medical histories, combat experiences and discharges specific to different veterans, according to the release. Data from the America’s Warrior Partnership will help identify veterans who don’t qualify for VA benefits, including National Guard or Reserve personnel who aren’t activated, or those with a dishonorable discharge.

In the first phase of the study, the investigators will conduct a 5-year retrospective analysis of the DOD service use and pattern of VA care utilization to determine if dishonorable discharges have an impact on suicide, and the differences in suicides between those who receive and do not receive VA services, according to the release. In the second phase, they will conduct a 3-year study including input from medical examiners, mental health experts, veterans, their families and the community to examine all new or suspected suicides. These findings will enable experts to see how the community impacts suicide prevention among veterans.

“Helping to identify the trends or predictors of veterans’ suicide could help immensely in reducing suicide rates and provide much needed interventions for this community,” John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, said in the release. “This project will take a deep dive to better understand what was happening at the community level to design better, more targeted intervention programs.”

Disclosures: Damonti is the president of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. Healio Psychiatry could not confirm relevant financial disclosures for Hamner or Albright at the time of publication.