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Suicide Rates Among Active Service Members Doubles in a Decade

Image: Suicide Rates Among Active Service Members Doubles in a Decade

By Courtney Coren   |   Thursday, 16 May 2013 12:53 PM

The suicide rate among active duty military personnel has doubled over the past decade to a record 350 in 2012, an increase the Pentagon is still struggling to understand even after spending millions on research and prevention efforts.

The suicide rate in 2002 among American troops was 10.3 per 100,000, which was far below the civilian suicide rate at the time. But the rate in 2012 has jumped almost 80 percent to 18 per 100,000 troops. Some experts, however, believe that number may be low because of how the military calculates the rate of suicides, The New York Times reported Thursday.

More than 2,700 military personnel have committed suicide since 2001, but that number does not include National Guard and reserve troops not on active duty. Suicide among veterans has also increased during the same period to 22 a day.

"Any one variable in isolation doesn't explain things," Craig J. Bryan, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, told the Times. "But the interaction of all of them do. That's what makes it very difficult to solve the problem. And that's why we haven't made advances."

According to the Times, the only consensus researchers have reached is that there are a collection of factors that are contributing to the increasing suicide rate, including mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, addictions, failed relationships, and financial struggles.

Half the troops who committed suicide in 2011 had experienced a failing relationship and substance abuse prior to killing themselves, the Times reported. Researchers also say deployment and combat can serve to worsen problems in a service member's life, like drug abuse, which is intensified by adding post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries that may also intensify suicidal behavior.

A study published Wednesday in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry determined that suicidal thoughts or behaviors among service members increased with the number of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) even when the effects of depression and TBI symptom severity were controlled for.

But combat and TBIs cannot account for the overall increase in suicide rate, according to researchers. Pentagon data reveals that half of those who committed suicide in recent years were never deployed and more than 80 percent were never in combat, the Times reported.

"This is the keenest misconception the public has: that deployment is the factor most related to the increased rates of suicide," said Cynthia Thomsen, a research psychologist at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego.

Although suicide data was not collected during previous war times, experts do believe that war is a factor.

"There is a difference between a military at war and a military at peace," Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, told the Times. "There is no doubt that war changes you."

The Pentagon plans to release military's first comprehensive suicide prevention program later this year.

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