MSRC News Details

MSRC Funding in Action: Study seeks families of military suicide

ASHLAND — Melinda Moore and Judy van de Venne have their own theories about things that happen when a military member commits suicide, although they are waiting to talk to families who have experienced their own losses before they attempt to report any conclusions.

Moore, a 1983 graduate of Paul Blazer High School, explained she and van de Venne are part of a team of four researchers from the University of Kentucky who are conducting a first-of-its-kind survey about military suicide and bereavement.

“We will be doing the bulk of the interviews with families,” Moore said, explaining the hope to conduct about 2,000 in-person clinical discussions with parents, spouses and adult children who have experienced the suicide of a military person, as well as veterans who experienced traumatic situations involving death.

“Bereavement is our real focus,” she added, saying they hope to later expand their surveys and interviews to include siblings who experienced military suicide.

The University of Kentucky Military Suicide Bereavement Study hopes “to better understand the experience of family members of service members and veterans who have died by suicide. By better understanding the experience of military suicides, we hope to empower families that have been left to grieve such losses.” Those who participate in the survey will answer questions to determine eligibility before the research team schedules a convenient time and location for the study, which takes about three hours to complete. The study does not have to be completed in a single sitting and all participants will receive $50 for their efforts.

Read more about the project description

According to Moore, the Pentagon recently reported that the suicide rate had spiked among active duty military personnel, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago. The military said that there have been 154 suicides among active duty service members in the first 155 days of 2012, representing an 18 percent increase over the 130 suicides for the same period in 2011. There were 123 suicides from January to early June 2010, and 133 during that period in 2009.

From 2005 to 2010, service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours. While suicides in the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard have been relatively stable and lower than those of the ground forces, U.S. Army suicides have climbed steadily since 2004. The Army reported a record-high number of suicides in July 2011 with the deaths of 33 active and reserve component service members reported as suicides. Suicides in the Marine Corps increased steadily from 2006 to 2009, dipping slightly in 2010.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes. Additionally, while only 1 percent of Americans have served during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States.

Multiple deployments have been linked to suicide. Recent analysis of Army data demonstrates that soldiers who deploy are more likely to die by suicide. Data have long indicated definitive links between suicide and injuries suffered during deployment. Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 1.5 times more likely than healthy individuals to die from suicide. Additional factors that heighten risk include chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, substance abuse and difficulties with anger management. These factors are also widely associated with deployment experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the most recent reporting year, nearly 600 Kentuckians died by suicide, representing a rate of 13.7 per 100,000. Kentucky currently has the 23rd highest suicide rate in the U.S., This is down from the 10th highest rate in 2007.

This study was funded by a grant was awarded from the Department of Defense’s Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) in the amount of $677,000 to the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work. Dr. Julie Cerel, principal investigator of the study, is an associate professor in UK’s College of Social Work. Dr. Cerel serves as the research division director for the American Association of Suicidology and is an internationally recognized expert in suicide bereavement. The MRSC was established to address the significant problem of military suicide among military personnel in the most efficient and coordinated fashion possible. It meets the needs of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program in facilitating the development of a comprehensive approach to prevent suicide among military service members. It will further contribute to the ultimate goal of the research program by expanding the knowledge, understanding and capacity to prevent, treat and enhance the quality of life of persons in military communities and the general public who are affected by suicide-related problems.

For more information about the Military Suicide Bereavement Research study e-mail melinda.moore@uky.edu or call (859) 257-0073.

Original Article