Sleep disturbances have been linked to a number of psychological issues. Insomnia has been shown to be related to stress, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, there is a significant amount of research that demonstrates a clear link between insomnia and suicide. Veterans are at increased risk for suicide and experience elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress (PTSD). These issues can affect veterans’ sleep patterns thus further increasing the negative symptoms associated with these problems. Although there are many studies that have looked closely at the relationship between insomnia and suicide, there are no existing studies that explore this link in veterans.
Wilfred R. Pigeon of the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention at the Canandaigua Veteran Affairs Medical Center in New York understands that the threat of suicide is disproportionately high among veterans and sought to better understand the connection between suicide and insomnia in order to provide information that could increase intervention efforts for these vulnerable individuals. For his study, Pigeon analyzed data from the medical records of 381 veterans who had died by suicide and had visited the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) in the last 12 months of their lives. He compared the charts of veterans who had presented with sleep problems to those with no sleep issues prior to their deaths.
Pigeon discovered, after allowing for substance use issues, PTSD, and other psychological problems, that the veterans who had reported sleep disturbances took their own lives in a shorter span of time following their VHA visit than those veterans with no record of sleep problems. Pigeon believes clinicians treating veterans at risk for suicide should consider insomnia as an additional risk factor. These findings could also help clinicians better identify those at risk for future psychological challenges other than suicide alone. Veterans are more inclined to admit their mental health problems than the general population, which opens up an avenue for assistance that does not exist among non-military individuals at risk for suicide. Pigeon said the findings indicate that it may be helpful to use sleep disturbance for detecting near-term risk for suicide to consider it as an important intervention target for this group of at-risk veterans.
Pigeon, W. R., Britton, P. C., Ilgen, M. A., Chapman, B., Conner, K. R. (2012). Sleep disturbance preceding suicide among veterans. American Journal of Public Health, 102.S1, S93-97.
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