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Strong Relationships May Reduce Risk of Military Suicides

Strong Relationships May Reduce Risk of Military Suicides

New research suggests being in a strong committed relationship can reduce the risk of suicide, especially among members of the military. Investigators from Michigan State University discovered strong committed relationships appear to reduce the risk of suicide among National Guard and reserve members.

Suicide rates for members of the military are disproportionally higher than for civilians. Moreover, around the holidays the number of reported suicides often increases, for service members and civilians alike.

Researchers have also discovered that the risk of suicide among National Guard and reserve members is even greater than the risk among active duty members. Investigators believe this is because of the unique challenges confronted by National Guard members when they return to their civilian life after deployment.

Guard members are expected to immediately jump back into their civilian lives, which many find difficult to do, especially after combat missions. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or high anxiety in the months following their return. These mental health conditions are considered at-risk symptoms for higher rates of suicide.

The researchers wanted to know what factors can buffer suicide risk, specifically the role that a strong intimate relationship plays. They discovered that when the severity of mental health symptoms increase, better relationship satisfaction reduces the risk of suicide.

“A strong relationship provides a critical sense of belonging and motivation for living – the stronger a relationship, the more of a buffer it affords to prevent suicides,” said Adrian Blow, family studies professor and lead author. The study appears in the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology.

“If the relationship is satisfying and going well, the lower the risk. National Guard members don’t typically have the same type of support system full-time soldiers receive upon returning home, so it’s important that the family and relationships they return to are as satisfying and strong as possible.”

The researchers surveyed 712 National Guard members who lived in Michigan, had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan between 2010-2013 and reported being in a committed relationship. The study measured three main variables — mental health symptoms, suicide risk and relationship satisfaction — each on a separate ranking scale.

The soldiers were asked questions such as how enjoyable the relationship is, if they ever thought about or attempted suicide, how often they have been bothered by symptoms of depressive disorder, etc.

Results showed significant associations between each of the mental health variables (PTSD, depression and anxiety) and suicide risk, indicating that higher symptoms were predictive of greater risk.

However, once couple satisfaction and its interaction with mental health was factored in, the association between mental health symptoms and suicide risk was changed. Specifically, for those with higher couple satisfaction, the increased symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety were no longer a risk for suicide.

Source: Michigan State University

Strong Relationships May Reduce Risk of Military Suicides

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Strong Relationships May Reduce Risk of Military Suicides. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Dec 2018 (Originally: 18 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Dec 2018
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