Preventing Suicide in the National Guard

Suicide is a concern across the military, but the problem is particularly severe in the National Guard. As such, Mike Anestis, PhD and Brad Green, PhD of the University of Southern Mississippi designed a study to better understand factors underlying suicide risk within the National Guard. They collected data from approximately 1,000 National Guard personnel (77.7% male, 59.5% white) and their results highlighted areas they believe represent vital targets for suicide prevention.

Two publications from this study demonstrated National Guard personnel are reluctant to openly talk about suicidal thoughts.  In the first (Anestis & Green, 2015), participants were 60% more likely to say they were experiencing thoughts of suicide on a measure that they knew would not be reported to others than they were on a similar measure they were informed was part of a safety protocol.  Building off of this, the second publication (Anestis, Mohn, Dorminey & Green, 2018) indicated that approximately 10% of the sample may be denying suicidal thoughts when, in reality, they are currently thinking about suicide. 

A second line of findings from this study highlighted the importance of the capability for suicide.  In the first of these publications, Anestis, Khazem, Mohn, and Green (2015) found that the relationship between suicidal desire and suicidal behavior is stronger among National Guard personnel who endorse higher levels of the capability for suicide.  In a second study, the authors found support for the role of ready access to firearms in the capability for suicide (Khazem et al., 2016).  Specifically, they found that, among firearm-owning National Guard, storing personal firearms loaded and unlocked was associated with greater capability for suicide and also strengthened the relationship between suicidal thoughts and the belief that suicide is likely in the future.

Taken together, this study has highlighted that National Guard personnel may be resistant to coming forward with suicidal thoughts and, at the same time, may be highly capable of acting on such thoughts.  Because of this, we believe that suicide prevention approaches within the National Guard should focus not only on helping individuals not want to die, but also on rendering suicide more difficult so that we are able to protect those who we do not know are at risk.

References:

Anestis, M.D., & Green, B.A. (2015).  The effect of varying levels of confidentiality on disclosure of suicidal thoughts in a sample of United States National Guard personnel.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71, 1023-1030. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22198

Anestis, M.D., Khazem, L.R., Mohn, R.S., & Green, B.A. (2015).  Testing the main hypotheses of the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior in a large diverse sample of United States military personnel.  Comprehensive Psychiatry, 60, 78-85. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2015.03.006

Anestis, M.D., Khazem, L.R., Mohn, R.S., & Green, B.A. (2015).  Testing the main hypotheses of the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior in a large diverse sample of United States military personnel.  Comprehensive Psychiatry, 60, 78-85. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2015.03.006

Anestis, M.D., Mohn, R.S., Dorminey, J.W., & Green, B.A. (2018).  Detecting underreporting of suicidal ideation among United States military personnel. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. Advance Online Publication.