CHICAGO - Combat appears to have little or no influence on suicide rates among U.S. troops and veterans, according to a military study that challenges the conventional thinking about war's effects on the psyche.
Depression and other types of mental illness, alcohol problems and being male - strong risk factors for suicide among civilians - were all linked to self-inflicted deaths among current and former members of the military.
But the researchers found deployment and combat did not raise the risk.
A U.S. soldier walks atop his armored vehicle at sunset as he prepares for a nighttime military exercise in the Kuwaiti desert south of the Iraqi border on Dec. 22, 2012. Combat appears to have little or no influence on suicide rates among U.S. troops and veterans, according to a military study that challenges the conventional thinking about war’s effects on the psyche published Tuesday, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"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 suicides, the authors wrote.
The results echo smaller studies focusing on a specific branch of the military, but this is the first to look at a sampling from the entire military population, said lead author Cynthia LeardMann, a researcher with the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego.
More than 145,000 people from all branches took part, including active-duty service members, reservists and retirees, and they were followed from 2001 to 2008, a period in which the U.S. waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A recent increase in the military suicide rate has raised concerns about a possible link between suicide and combat, including long or repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the new study should lay those concerns to rest, said Dr. Nancy Crum-Cianflone, another researcher with the Navy center.
She is leading a larger study on the health effects of serving in the military. The newly released findings are based on a subset of participants in that study.