Objective Suicides among active duty US Army personnel have been increasing since 2004, surpassing comparable civilian rates in 2008. This analysis uses US military data to assess suicide rates for the 2-year period 2007–8, and examines relative risks (RR) of suicide associated with mental health disorders.
Methods Historical trends of US Army suicides were assessed using 1977–2008 data from Army G-1 (Personnel). Suicide rates, RR and the 2000–8 trends of mental health disorders were calculated using data from the Defense Casualty Information Processing System and Defense Medical Surveillance System.
Results A total of 255 soldiers committed suicide in 2007–8 (2008 rate 20.2 per 100 000). Factors associated with higher suicide risk included male gender, lower enlisted rank and mental health disorders treated on an outpatient basis (RR 3.9), as well as a number of mental health disorders (mood disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality/psychotic disorders, substance-related disorders and adjustment disorder; RR range 4.7–24.5). Analysis of historical trends suggested that 25–50% of the suicides that occurred in 2008 might have been related to the major commitment of troops to combat beginning in 2003.
Conclusions The recent increase in suicides parallels an increase in the prevalence of mental disorders across the army. This finding suggests that increasing rates of clinically treated psychopathology are associated with increasing rates of suicides; these rates probably serve as sentinels for suicide risk in this population. Soldiers seeking treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse should be a focus for suicide prevention.
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Previous presentation: Force Health Protection Conference, Phoenix, AZ, 7–13 August 2010.
Funding This work was supported in part by an appointment to the postgraduate research participation program at the US Army Public Health Command (USAPHC) administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and USAPHC.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement Data for this article were obtained from the Army Behavioral Health Integrated Data Environment (ABHIDE). Requests for these data are handled by the US Army Public Health Command (http://phc.amedd.army.mil/). Data were also obtained from the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED). Requests for these data are handled by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (http://afhsc.army.mil/).
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