Suicides among U.S. army service personnel rose a whopping 80 percent between 2004 and 2008 – with 4 in 10 of those suicide possibly associated with military events following the invasion of in Iraq, a new military health study has found.
Researchers with the U.S. Army Public Health Command, published in the journal Injury Prevention, based their findings on trends in army suicides from 1977 to 2008.
Their assessments showed that suicide rates among soldiers on active duty were in line with expected trends between 1977 and 2003, when the U.S. initiated the second Iraq war.
But after 2004 they began to rise, increasing by more than 80 up to 2008, and overtaking the rates among the civilian population. Among the study’s findings:
• During 2007 and 2008, 255 soldiers on active duty took their own lives -- a suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 person years;
• Nearly 40 of those suicides might be associated with military events following U.S. involvement in Iraq in 2003;
• Soldiers between the ages of 18 and 24 accounted for almost half of the suicides; 54 percent were among soldiers of low rank. Nearly 70 percent had been deployed in active combat.
The increase in suicides mirrored a rise in mental health issues after 2003. Suicide rates were higher among soldiers diagnosed with a mental illness in the preceding year, the data showed.
Researchers said soldiers admitted to a hospital for a mental health disorder were more than 15 times as likely to commit suicide as those who had not been.
They said the findings highlight the need for better methods of identifying, monitoring, and treating those who are potentially at risk.
"This increase, unprecedented in over 30 years of U.S. Army records, suggests that approximately 40 percent of suicides that occurred in 2008 may be associated with post-2003 events following the major commitment of troops to Iraq, in addition to the ongoing operations in Afghanistan," the authors wrote.