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In honor of Memorial Day, we are recognizing veterans who suffer from depression and have died from suicide.  According to a recent U.S. study, military suicides are more apt to occur once members separate from service rather than while deployed on active duty, especially if they’ve served for a relatively brief period of time.

It was natural as the wars continued and the number of military suicides increased for people to think that being deployed was the reason, but data from a recent study shows that this assumption is just too simplistic. When you look at the entire population, you cannot associate deployment with suicide.

Although the U.S. military has had a lower rate of suicide compared to the civilian population, the suicide rate among those on active duty in the military has increased in the last ten years, to the point that it has nearly doubled in the Marine Corpse and the Army.

To gain an understanding of the association between military suicides and deployment researchers analyzed the records of over 3.9 million men and women in the service, both on active duty and in the reserves in support of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at any time from Oct. 7, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2007.

There were 31,962 deaths, with 5,041 caused by suicide, by Dec. 31, 2009.

The rate of military suicides were similar regardless of whether the service member had deployed or not. Among those who had deployed, 1,162 committed suicide as opposed to 3,879 service members who hadn’t deployed. This represents a suicide rate of 18.86 per 100,000 and 17.78 per 100,000 respectively.

Separating from the military however, did significantly increase suicide risk, with a rate of suicide at 26.06 after leaving military service as opposed to 15.12 for service members who stayed in uniform. Service members who left earlier were at greater risk, with a suicide rate of 48.04 for those who were in the military less than one year.

Service members who received a dishonorable discharge were approximately twice as apt to take their lives as members who received an honorable discharge.

This was a very large comprehensive study that, for the first time found an increase in the risk of military suicides among military members who had left the service, especially if they were in uniform less than 4 years or received something other than an honorable discharge.

It may be that pre-deployment exams screen out people with mental health issues, making members who end up deploying several times a mentally healthier group with more resilience. Those who struggle greatly with one deployment do not volunteer to go again. For people thinking about suicide, having access to a firearm can certainly exacerbate the risk. This factor should not be overlooked because it is clear that when people don’t have easy access to a weapon, they are not as apt to kill themselves.

Some members of the service who end up leaving early may have experienced some of the risk factors associated with suicide, like substance abuse problems, mood disorders and these may have played a part in their separation, especially if they received a dishonorable discharge. Some of the service members who received dishonorable discharges may have had mental health problems that made it difficult or impossible to keep their behavior under control, which may have led to them breaking rules. Some of the members who left the military early may be people who are actually in distress and appropriately chose to leave the military.

The findings of this study underscore the need for everyone concerned to play close attention to people when they leave the military so that they receive the care and attention they need should they be at risk for committing suicide. If you or a loved one is considering suicide, please give us a call!

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