MSRC News Details

MSRC mentioned in "Which veterans are at highest risk for suicide?"

PTSD, injuries combine with everyday stresses; studies also say women especially vulnerable.

The stresses that can contribute to suicide — relationship problems, legal problems, mental illness, depression — are the same for military personnel and veterans as for the rest of the population, experts say.

But the former have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, both of which increase the chance of self-harm, said Peter Gutierrez, co-director of the Military Suicide Research Consortium in Denver, a joint effort by the U.S. military and research scientists to understand and prevent suicidal behavior. Having two or more such conditions that affect mental health — known as co-morbidity — is also known to increase the risk.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs data, the likelihood of suicide among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans was greatest during the first two years after leaving active duty; it declined by half after four to six years had passed. Although those veterans faced a “significantly higher” risk than the general population, it’s unclear how they stack up against veterans of other wars, such as Vietnam.

“One of the questions that clearly needs to be answered is how does the suicide rate among our youngest veterans compare to suicide rates among other (groups of veterans)?” Gutierrez said.

Research is trickling in that addresses that question. A study released in June by the VA found that suicide risk in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with a mental health condition was four times higher than in veterans without that diagnosis.

Studies have shown that male veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as men who aren’t veterans. Military service appears to have put women at even more risk for suicide than their male counterparts.

Not only have the wars subjected unprecedented numbers of female service members to combat experiences that rival those of men, they are also vulnerable to sexual assault by their male comrades. The long-term effects of these types of traumas is unknown, but a 2008 study of 6,000 female suicide victims showed that those who served in the military during the current conflicts were three times as likely to commit suicide than those who had never been in the military.

K.C. Dobson was 24 and had been married only 19 months when she shot herself in the heart in Copperas Cove last November.

Her Army photos show a beaming, freckle-faced young woman in fatigues, her dark hair pulled back in a bun. But her smile masked what family members said was emotional and physical pain that dogged her throughout her deployment to Iraq and after her 2010 discharge.

“She was under a lot of stress, emotional stress,” said her husband, Kenneth Dobson, 23, who is stationed at Fort Hood and preparing for his second deployment to Afghanistan.
“At the time, I didn’t know how much.”

He said his wife had been injured in the Army and had what is called a permanent profile, an official note that a soldier has physical limitations. “Some days, she couldn’t move much,” he said, adding that when she tried to sit out certain exercises with her unit, she was put on extra duty.

The couple had made plans to separate but were still living together last fall, and Kenneth Dobson said he saw no signs that his wife was contemplating suicide. “She was going to school and working at Papa John’s. She seemed happy,” he said.

Her mother, Liz Carver of Aurora, Ill., said her daughter had been on “all kinds of medication” and sought psychiatric help before her deployment. “She didn’t tell me everything,” she said. “She didn’t want to worry me. She was pretty independent.”

The day she went into a room and shot herself, K.C. sent a text message to her friends and family. It said, “I love you. Bye.”

Original Article