New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reveals that veterans who have attempted suicide at least once are at a significantly increased risk for dying by suicide. Current statistics show that 18 military personnel take their own lives each day in America. In order to determine exactly which segment of this population was at most risk, researchers examined veterans over a period of ten years, all who had attempted suicide and received inpatient treatment. “We looked at suicide among veterans who had already attempted suicide one time,” says Douglas J. Wiebe, Ph.D, assistant professor of Epidemiology and author of the study. He says that the results, “should have us very concerned about current veterans in the more contemporary era.”
Wiebe and colleagues studied over 10,000 veterans. More than 1,800 of them died from a variety of causes, but suicide was the cause of death in over half of those veterans. In relation to the entire group studied, suicide represented 13% of all of the deaths, significantly higher than the 1.8% of suicides in the non-military population during the same time period. The research also revealed that suicide was the leading cause of death among female veterans in the study and the second leading cause for men in the study.
Wiebe and his team discovered that even if a veteran did not attempt suicide again, his risks for death by other illness was increased three fold compared to his non-military counterparts, thus dispelling the ‘healthy soldier effect,’ a belief that someone who passes the rigorous military fitness program must be healthier overall than a civilian. “The ‘healthy soldier effect’ is no reason to think that veterans should be more emotionally and mentally resilient than anyone else,” says Wiebe. “The consequences of military service can include both physical and emotional health challenges that veterans continue to face long after their ‘war’ is no longer on the front page.”
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