The Army suicide rate has soared since the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to a new study. The number of army suicides increased by 80 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the study conducted by the U.S. Army Public Health Command.
From 1977 to 2003 the Army suicide rate was similar to the suicide rate in civilians, if not slightly lower. The army rate began to climb in 2004 and was higher than the civilian rate by 2008.
Researchers found that found that 255 soldiers killed themselves between 2007 and 2008. Of those who committed suicide, 69 percent had seen active duty and nearly 50 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24.
The recent increase in suicide rates may be viewed as the tip of the 'mental health iceberg,' signaling more prevalent underlying mental health problems, the authors wrote.
Soldiers diagnosed with depression were 11 times more likely to commit suicide and those diagnosed with anxiety were 10 times more likely.
More than 25 percent of soldiers who killed themselves were diagnosed with adjustment disorder, a blanket term used to describe the problems that result from being in a stressful or traumatic environment, such as combat.
By establishing that soldiers who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder are at greater risk of suicide, we then have a place to target prevention strategies, Dr. Michelle Chervak, study author and epidemiologist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, told ABC News.
The authors wrote that the increase is unprecedented in the 30 years of army records, and suggests that 30 percent of suicides that occurred in 2008 may be associated with post-2003 events following the major commitment of troops to Iraq, in addition to the ongoing operations in Afghanistan.
Chervak said that while the study does not show that the cause of the suicides was the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, this study does suggest that an Army engaged in prolonged combat operations is a population under stress, and that mental health conditions and suicide can be expected to increase under these circumstances.
The Army has tried to prevent suicides through training, a suicide prevention task force and a day off from official duties to focus on suicide prevention, according to Bloomberg News. The Army also has a website dedicated to preventing suicide.
While suicide remains a relatively rare event, the results of this study suggest it is increasing at an unprecedented rate and, unlike any other time in history, U.S. military suicide rates now appear to have surpassed those among comparable civilian populations, Simon Rego, supervising psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center, told HealthDay. It is therefore critical that we address this emerging public-health problem by focusing our efforts on studies like this one, which allow us to identify any and all risk factors for suicide, in order to improve our prevention efforts.
The journal Injury Prevention published the study on Wednesday.