Suicide Rates at All-Time High Among Active-Duty Soldiers
February 5, 2008 -- Suicide among active-duty soldiers has reached its all-time high since 1980, when the Army began tracking soldier suicide rates. Up to an alarming 17.5 suicides per 100,000 soldiers in 2007, this figure has almost doubled since its lowest recorded level of 9.1 per 100,000 six years ago.
Upon their return from war, many soldiers face mental, emotional, and social issues that can manifest as alcoholism, depression, marital problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. Most recently, suicide attempts have increased as an obvious effect of deployment-related stress.
The Institute of Medicine's report Gulf War and Health, Vol. 6: Physiologic, Psychologic, and Psychosocial Effects of Deployment-Related Stress analyzes the evidence concerning associations between deployment-related stress and long-term adverse health effects.
Although the report cannot offer definitive answers about the connections between many health problems and the stresses of war, it is clear that veterans who were deployed to war zones self-report more medical conditions and poorer health than veterans who were not deployed. Those who were deployed and have PTSD in particular tend to report more symptoms and poorer health. PTSD often occurs in conjunction with other anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse; its prevalence and severity is associated with increased exposure to combat. Serving in a war also increases the chances of alcohol abuse, accidental death, and suicide within the first few years after leaving the war zone, and marital and family conflict, including domestic violence, said the committee that wrote the report.
The report recommended that the U.S. Department of Defense conduct comprehensive, standardized evaluations of service members' medical conditions, psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses, and psychosocial status and trauma history before and after they deploy to war zones. Such screenings would provide baseline data for comparisons and information to determine the long-term consequences of deployment-related stress. In addition, they would help identify at-risk personnel who might benefit from targeted intervention programs during deployment -- such as marital counseling or therapy for psychiatric or other disorders -- and help DOD and VA choose which intervention programs to implement for veterans adjusting to post-deployment life.