Veterans are More Vulnerable to Suicide than General Public, Study Shows

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.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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

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  • Suzzane h

    Suzzane h

    July 7th, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    It is very understandable why they are mre at risk. And that is exactly why they need more attention than the rest of us and need te bet possible care medically for both physical and mental health problems.

  • Joan C

    Joan C

    July 8th, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    Think long and hard about the things that a vet has had to do and see. More than most of us would be able to manage and handle. I find it very sad that not until 2011 has there been a conclusion that suicide may be higher in this demographic. I mean, duh. I could not even handle basic training much less that lifestyle that is so complete and that many of these men and women have had to lead.

  • moragbaldwin

    moragbaldwin

    July 8th, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    The consequences of war such as having to kill someone must be a very traumatic experience. I would imagine that few have done so and felt zero emotion after the fact, even if it was done in self defense.

    Those who have felt nothing need some serious help just as much as those who are emotionally overwhelmed by the enormity of it.

    It’s not like in the movies where a guy can gun down a nameless baddie and forget about him a minute later. Our vets need our care and respect desperately.

  • T.W.

    T.W.

    July 8th, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Note how in female vets suicide was the leading cause of death. Ever read about the hidden problem of female soldiers being sexually assaulted and raped by their fellow bunkmates? Mother Jones, a non-profit news organization website devoted to change, posted an excellent article entitled Rape in the Ranks on Wednesday. It referenced an infographic in GOOD magazine on how “females are more likely to be raped by their own troops than killed by enemy fire.” A shocking truth.

    It also gave an example of a female vet interviewed in Christian Science Monitor:

    “After Neutzling discovered that the two men who had raped her had videotaped the attack—and were showing the tape to friends—she told a colleague she “wanted to maim them,” Neutzling recalls. The colleague reported this news to a chaplain, who told her that she “didn’t act like a rape victim,” and then took away her M-16, Neutzling says.

    Because she had not reported the rape or completed a rape kit, her superiors told her “it was a matter of ‘he said, she said,’ or in my case, ‘they said, she said.'” Furthermore, because she was married, “since I admitted having sexual relations with them, I was told by command that I was committing adultery, and if I wanted to push it I would be brought up on adultery charges.”

    Last February, Neutzling joined 16 other vets in bringing a class action suit against former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, alleging that on their watch, the military fostered an environment that encouraged assaults and discouraged victims from stepping forward.”

    We have to ask ourselves and our politicians to investigate how much that horrific situation and abysmal mishandling plays a part in female vets’ suicides and most of all why it’s pushed under the carpet.

  • PV

    PV

    July 8th, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    Just why do so many vets commit suicide and fall prey to mental health disorders??! Are we doing something wrong? This is a very stupid issue and needs to be readdressed as soon as we possibly can.

  • PV

    PV

    July 8th, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    Sorry about the typo up there,I meant serious issue.

  • Gabrielle F.

    Gabrielle F.

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    Isn’t it incredibly ironic and disturbing if that’s the truth? You join the army, get sent to some hellhole country that you couldn’t find on a map knowing every day you could be shot or blown up, only to come home safely and then kill yourself.

    That’s so tragic. I wish there was less conflict in the world and if there has to be that it stops at words, not guns and bombs.

  • Paul Bond

    Paul Bond

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    And it’s not just because they have killed in the line of duty. Some don’t have a problem with killing a terrorist. Terrorists are scum, we all know that.

    However, a soldier can see a buddy who has saved their life or watched their back countless times get killed in front of them. That would send anybody over the edge. May God help them stay their hand and find help for their traumas.

  • Abby Stark

    Abby Stark

    July 9th, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    We’ve got to learn to spot the signs of combat trauma better if 13% of vet deaths in that study were suicides. That’s 234 out of 1800. Even one’s too many.

    Why don’t they go to their commanding officer and say “Sir, I can’t deal with the stress. I need to see a doctor”? I don’t understand that.

  • Lydia French

    Lydia French

    July 9th, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    @Abby–Because their CO would probably tell them to man up and get out his office. Stress comes with the job. You need that heightened awareness to survive in a war zone. The military life isn’t all touchy-feely! You have to be tough to be able to do it and most don’t see admitting to stress as manly. There’s a stigma about it.

    Despite what they say about how they do take care of their troops mental issues, the numbers show the truth clear as day. They don’t do it or don’t do it well enough.

  • Constantine

    Constantine

    July 9th, 2011 at 9:47 PM

    You see Abby, being in the military has its perks. That’s what draws so many to enlist. They see the shiny perks and are temporarily blinded to the downsides by their dazzle. Great housing, good pay, further education, good healthcare for them and their families, a nice pension when you leave and so on. Those who are in the military, and especially when based in a combat situation are afraid of showing weakness, in case they get discharged and lose it all. So they stay quiet instead of getting some counseling.

    It’s very sad because ultimately in the end they lose it all anyway if they take their own life. To me that’s akin to exchanging your sanity for a four bedroom home with a nice yard on post.

  • Rhea C.

    Rhea C.

    July 14th, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    @Constantine: But that’s just awful! Is it a fact that they will lose it if they can’t keep their heads together or is that something that they simply don’t ask about because of the fear that they will be on the streets with nothing at all if they are discharged?

    The armed forces need to make the policy crystal clear on what happens to personnel who do become ill like that. They can’t help it!

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