Four Risk Factors for Suicide Identified in Active Duty Military Personnel

Active duty military personnel are at a higher risk for suicide than their civilian counterparts, in part due to the stigma associated with mental issues in the military. A new study examined four specific psychosocial factors that influence the risk of suicidal ideation. Researchers at the University of South Alabama and Stony Brook University examined the 2006 Community Assessment (CA) survey, an anonymous survey that is given to Air Force personnel throughout the world. They also looked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s predictors of suicide ideation in a sampling of over 50,000 active duty Air Force Personnel. The CA was given to the personnel through an online contractor and asked questions about four specific social factors, including family, individual, community and workplace functioning. The researchers said, “This study is the first to examine risk factors from four ecological levels as they relate to men’s and women’s suicidal ideation in a large military sample.”

The results showed that each of the four ecological factors influenced the risk for suicide ideation. The authors said, “Self reports of past-year suicidal ideation were obtained from a large sample of active-duty AF members via an anonymous online survey; the prevalence of suicidal ideation in this sample was approximately 4%. As expected, the majority (21 of 21 for men, 19 of 21 for women) of the measured risk and promotive factors from all four ecological levels of influence (individual, family, organization/workplace, and community) were associated significantly with suicidal ideation for both genders.” The researchers noted that individual factors, specifically depressive symptoms or alcohol misuse, had a clear impact on suicide ideation. Additionally, lack of family support was an important factor that increased suicide ideation in these personnel. They added, “Even in multivariate models that included depressive symptoms, variables from multiple levels of influence were retained as significant predictors for both men and women.”

Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Jennifer, Jeffrey D. Snarr, Amy M. Smith Slep, Richard E. Heyman, and Heather M. Foran. “Risk for Suicidal Ideation in the U.S. Air Force: An Ecological Perspective.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (July, 25, 2011). Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024631

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • liza


    August 2nd, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Yes family plays a role no matter how far you are from them.But for someone in the AF who has probably been out of home for quite sometime and meets his family rarely,I think his day-to-day environment and the people,the other personnel,around him have a far greater impact and will play a bigger role in determining whether a person is susceptible to suicide or not.

  • Ollie


    August 3rd, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    This is sending a message loud and clear that there is a problem with this in the military and that we all need to keep our eyes open to these issues and not let someone experiencing this go through it alone.

  • Alec K

    Alec K

    August 3rd, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    Well well well…The armed forces members seem to be losing the battle not to the enemy but to their own minds in the war! Just physical strength is not sufficient for sucha stressful and risky job but so is mental strength.

    Looks like we need to pep up our mental training methods!

  • TONI


    August 3rd, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    I have been reading how prevalent suicide is in the USAF quite often recently.But what are the figures for other countries’ AF?Let us take a look at that and then we can weigh things.If the difference is big then we can be sure there is something amiss in our AF!

  • rene d.

    rene d.

    August 11th, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    Why is military suicide so high? You KNOW you’re going to be killing people, you KNOW people are going to die, and you KNOW exactly what you’re getting yourself into as soon as you set foot in some hellhole desert. If you can’t handle that, don’t enlist!

  • m.n.b.


    August 11th, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    @rene d.: That’s an oversimplification if ever I heard one. Knowing is not the same as experiencing. It’s because for the few that are unlucky enough to have to kill another human being or see one get killed in front of them the traumatic aftermath is overwhelming.

    I don’t care how many violent movies you’ve watched, games you’ve played or training sessions you’ve had: you cannot prepare yourself for such a horrific, unforgettable experience.

  • Yvette Thompson

    Yvette Thompson

    August 11th, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    @Jackson–Their paranoia is justified to an extent I guess when they are in their advancing years . However you will worry yourself to death if you think it’s Alzheimers just because you can’t remember what day it is too often for your own good. That’s no way to live.

    You can worry about it when you forget the names of your children and grandchildren every time you see them. Good tip there on keeping them active and engaged. That also helps any real signs of mental decline to be spotted by the family sooner if they interact a lot.

  • Jeremy McLaughlin

    Jeremy McLaughlin

    August 11th, 2011 at 9:32 PM

    It’s extra traumatic because in a warzone or any type of armed conflict you know that it can happen to you just as easily any time. The chances are much higher than say if you witnessed a fatal car accident that it would happen to you soon afterward.

    All intelligent lifeforms are bound by an instinct that says fight or flight. When they can’t do either, they suffer very high levels of stress and trauma because they can’t resolve the situation and their desire for self-preservation.

  • P. Quinn

    P. Quinn

    August 12th, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    @Alec I agree that “we need to pep up our mental training methods”. Having to face a bunch of fanatics who are able to wreak havoc with nothing more than improvised explosives, weak guns and intimidation of civilians, day in and day out, and to find them beating you sometimes despite your superior weaponry, would wear anybody down.

    We have the military budget. Let’s spend more on mental power than metal power.

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