Since 2004, suicides rates in the U.S. Army have been on the rise. While researchers debate the cause, a new study finds that among suicide cases from 2007-2010, young white males were more at risk than any other demographic.
Army research psychologists James Griffith and Mark Vaitkus analyzed data from the Army National Guard’s (ARNG) personnel data system, from a routine data collection of soldiers returning from deployment. They also looked at Army reserve soldiers’ responses to the 2009 Status of Forces Questionnaire.
The researchers found that soldiers between the ages of 17 and 24 years old were on average 1.59 times more likely to have committed suicide than their older peers.
They also found that males were 3.05 times more likely to have committed suicide than females; and that white soldiers were 1.85 times more likely to have committed suicide than other races.
Additionally, researchers found that for soldiers who had been deployed, combat exposure and other military-related variables showed little to no associations with suicide risk. These findings are consistent with those reported in other, independently conducted Army studies, the researchers noted.
The researchers also offered explanations for each of the three suicide patterns among soldiers.
For example, as suicides in the Army are more likely to occur among soldiers between the ages of 17 and 24, Griffith and Vaitkus discussed how this younger age group is one in which individuals are likely to be struggling to define who they are and how they relate to others.
“Self-identity provides the individual with a sense of worth and meaning, characteristics often absent in suicide cases,” the researchers noted.
They also noted that, compared to white communities, African-American communities often have better support systems, higher participation in religion, and have also been described to be more resilient in adapting to difficult life experiences.
With regard to differences between male and female soldiers, researchers stated that males are more likely to engage in behaviors that would put them at risk for suicide, such as a familiarity with firearms and alcohol and substance abuse.
They also noted that men are less likely to seek or develop social support, and that women benefit more from social integration than men.
The researchers said they hope their findings would help identify those who are at risk for suicide.
“After identifying those at risk, soldiers need to be managed and provided appropriate support and care,” the authors said.
They acknowledged this is complicated for reservists who spend most of their time in “part-time” or civilian status. As reservists now make up about one-half the active duty Army, the researchers argued for more deliberate thought on how best to screen reserve soldiers who are at risk for suicide.
At present, reservists identified as at risk must rely on their own private health care for treatment, which is likely to be inadequate, the researchers concluded.
The study was published in Armed Forces & Society.
Source: SAGE Publications