The largest study to date of a rising suicide rate among military personnel, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found no connection between suicide and deployment overseas in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The findings are the latest in a series of studies prompted by a military suicide rate that has nearly doubled since 2005. The study's authors and other researchers cautioned, however, that the findings do not rule out combat exposure as a reason for the increase in suicides, adding that more information was needed.
"As the wars went on, the suicide rates also went up and it was very tempting to assume deployments must be the reason," said the lead author, Mark Reger of the Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology in Tacoma, Wash. "Our data don't support that. But there may be important subgroups, including those exposed to combat, that we need to look at further."
The suicide rate for troops deployed in support of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the study found, was only slightly higher than for troops who did not deploy to that area or remained stateside -- 18.86 deaths versus 17.78 deaths per 100,000. The national average is about 13 deaths per 100,000.
Earlier studies produced contrasting results, with one finding an increased risk after deployment among young Army soldiers, others finding no increase and one finding deployment actually lowered suicide risk.
The latest study, which analyzed records of 3.9 million military personnel who served from 2001 to 2007, did find that troops who left the military within four years, especially under less-than-honorable conditions, were at much higher risk of suicide than those who continued to serve.
The prevalence of suicide was not even across branches. The Army and Marine Corps, which bore the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, had rates about 25 percent higher than those of the Air Force and Navy. But within those branches, rates between those who deployed and those who did not were nearly the same.
"This is a very good study, but there may be a lot going on here that the data doesn't allow us to see," said Michael Schoenbaum, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health who led a 2014 study on suicides in the Army. He said the question of war's effect on suicide was far from settled.
A Section on 04/02/2015