Study: Past trauma increases risk of suicide among U.S. military members

BY Carey Reed  August 10, 2014 at 8:44 PM EST
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among the U.S. military. Three studies look at how past trauma influences those suicide rates. Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among the U.S. military. Three studies look at how past trauma influences those suicide rates. Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

Military members who experience trauma prior to enlisting are more at risk for suicide than those who have not, according to three studies released this week.

The studies, presented at an American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C., explored the connection between premilitary suicide attemptssexual abuse and the risk for future suicidal behavior, the second-leading cause of death among U.S. military personnel, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Soldiers who reported childhood abuse were three to eight times more likely to report suicidal behavior, said one study conducted by the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah. 

“Experiencing abuse early in life in the home may lead to a tendency to perceive and experience stressful events as catastrophic and insurmountable,” said the study’s author James Griffith, Ph.D., in an APA statement.

“A child experiencing abuse has little opportunity to effectively cope when stressed, being in a powerless position with no recourse,” Griffith said. “This may lead to less ability to handle future stressful circumstances.”

Griffith analyzed data from surveys completed in 2010 by 12,567 soldiers in the Army National Guard, which saw an uptick in suicide by its members — even when overall military suicides dropped by 15 percent in 2013.

In the study, Griffith found that the initial rates of suicide were highest among groups engaged in ground combat and were attributed to the stress of fighting.