A new study indicates suicide rates among military personnel and veterans aren’t specifically linked to combat exposure.
A new study released by the American Medical Association (AMA) indicates suicide rates among military personnel and veterans aren’t specifically linked to combat exposure, but rather a predisposition to depression, mental illness and heavy alcohol use.
The report comes at a time when military-related suicides are at an all-time high, causing speculation regarding correlation and causation of the growing population of soldiers falling victim to extreme depression.
In February, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs issued a report indicating 22 veterans committed suicide every day in 2010, equating to one military veteran suicide every 65 minutes.
The report, which looked at veteran suicides from 1999 to 2010, caused those within the veteran community to urge the government to take action. In 2012, 350 suicides were committed by active-duty military personnel.
“Our leaders in Washington need to accelerate efforts to shrink wait times for mental health care and find more creative solutions,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Paul Rieckhoff told the New York Daily News.
Authors of the (AMA) report take a different approach when looking at the military’s depression epidemic, claiming those who enter the military are already prone to depression.
According to the new report, suicide rates have more to do with pre-existing mental disorders of incoming military personnel than they do with combat exposure.
“In this sample of current and former military personnel (observed July 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2008), suicide risk was independently associated with male sex and mental disorders but not with military-specific variables,” the report states.
A look at the study
The study followed the mental health condition of 151,600 active-duty military personnel and veterans. From 2001 to 2008, those involved in the study were administered surveys once every three years. The surveys questioned participants about combat history and experiences, along with general assessments related to depression and other mental health disorders.
By the end of the study, 83 of those taking part had committed suicide — another 646 died from other causes.
By the end of the report, authors determined no significant link between combat experience and suicide rates. However, it did discover a strong correlation among those who had a history of depression or other mental disorders, manic-depressive disorder in particular.
One author of the report correlates the finding to those seen in the civilian world. However, there’s also a question over whether the military is screening potential recruits for depression and mental disorders effectively enough upon entry to the military.
“The findings from this study are not consistent with the assumption that specific deployment-related characteristics, such as length of deployment, number of deployments or combat experiences are directly associated with increased suicide risk,” Naval Health Research Center authors wrote. “Instead, the risk factors associated with suicide in the military population are consistent with civilian populations, including male sex and mental disorders.”
Who is being recruited?
In 2005, the Washington Post cited Pentagon data, noting that nearly two-thirds of those recruited in 2004 came from counties where the average household income was below the U.S. median. In that same report, it looked at rural areas as top recruiting grounds for the military — In 2005, 44 percent of military recruits stemmed from the nation’s rural areas.
Entry to the military is not allowed for those who are on prescription anti-depression medication. However, for those who have been off anti-depression medication for one year, there’s a green light for entry.
“Once you are off and depression free for one year, get copies of your treatment paperwork, including therapy notes, and take them with you to your recruiter,” military member sponsored organization military.com states on its website. “They will submit the documents to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) for review. MEPS will either DQ (disqualify) you, allow you to physical and enlist, or allow you to physical with a waiver (most likely).”
According to U.S. Medicine, one-third of recruits entered the Army in 2007 on medical waivers, which include waivers for issues relating to a history of mental illness. By 2011, one-third of mental health-related waiver requests were approved, according to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.