U.S. Army soldiers who have been admitted to the hospital with a psychiatric disorder are at far greater risk for attempting suicide during the first 12 months after the hospital discharge, according to new research by the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS).
In fact, the yearly suicide rate for this group is 263.9 per 100,000 soldiers, compared to the Regular Army suicide rate of 18.5 suicides per 100,000 for the same study period.
For the study, researchers looked at data from the 12 months following a hospital discharge for more than 40,000 anonymous, Regular Army soldiers (full-time soldiers excluding Army National Guard and Army Reserve) who served on active duty from 2004 through 2009.
Overall, the Army’s suicide rate began increasing in 2004; it exceeded the rate among a similar group of U.S. civilians in 2009, and has remained high through 2014.
The findings reveal that 40,820 soldiers (0.8 percent of all Regular Army soldiers) were hospitalized with a psychiatric disorder in 2004-2009, the period covered by this research. Furthermore, suicides among this group during the year after a hospital discharge accounted for 12 percent of all Regular Army suicides.
The researchers, led by Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, were also able to identify smaller, higher-risk groups within this already at-risk population. By analyzing soldiers’ characteristics and experiences, researchers identified the five percent of soldiers with the highest predicted risk of suicide after leaving the hospital.
Soldiers in this top five percent accounted for 52.9 percent of the post-hospital suicides. This top five percent also accounted for a greater proportion of deaths by accident, suicide attempts, and re-hospitalizations.
Within this group, some of the strongest predictors of suicide include the following characteristics: being male, having enlisted at an older age, having a history of criminal offenses during Army service, having had prior suicidal thoughts or actions, among others.
“This is the first publication from Army STARRS that reports on the ability to use Army/Department of Defense data to identify specific subgroups within the Army that have very significantly elevated suicide risk,” said National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Researchers conclude that these findings should justify the expansion of post-hospital interventions. They continue to develop and refine computer models to help the Army predict suicide risk and prevent self-harm among soldiers.
The research is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Army STARRS is a partnership between the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health.