Newer enlisted, active-duty soldiers who have not deployed are more likely to commit suicide, according to a new in-depth study published Wednesday.
Specifically, the rate of suicide attempts among enlisted members is 377 per 100,000, as opposed to 28 per 100,000 for officers. These newer enlisted members are classified as those who have been part of the Army for four years or less. Those in the Army for less than two years had the highest risk.
Similarly, attempts were more common in soldiers who weren't deployed, although deaths were higher in those who were.
The analysis also found that, compared to Army men, these rates are highest, at both levels, among women and those without a high school diploma. Suicide attempts were more prevalent in women, although deaths were more common with men.
"Lower education is often found as a health risk factor across many illnesses and disorders. The mechanisms can be many, including earlier life stressors, social support levels, skills or knowledge for life challenges and many more," Dr. Robert Ursano, lead author of the study and psychiatry chairman at the Uniformed Services University, told the Washington Examiner in an email.
Suicide deaths, furthermore, are more common among whites, among those with no college education and among those in the early stages of their Army careers. A recent mental illness diagnosis was also a trend.
Despite the recognition military suicides garner, attempted suicides are typically more frequent. Ursano called these attempts "an opportunity to intervene."
"In general, suicide attempts reflect distressed soldiers dealing with challenges of life, career and current stressors. Although suicide attempts are sometimes thought of as "a call for help," that perspective is rarely that of the suicide attempter," Ursano said.
Of the one million active-duty regular Army members who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, the study examined almost 10,000 suicide attempts. During that same period, however, the Army reported only 569 deaths from suicide.
Completed suicides within the military reached an all-time high in 2009, when 352 service members committed suicide. After that record number, the suicide fatality rate each year after has remained at a relatively constant annual average of around 300.
"The demographics and risk factors are different [between attempted and completed suicides]. This suggests that they may be 'different disorders' [that] reflect different but related populations, risk factors and trajectories of onset. Therefore they also have different underlying biological risk factors," Ursano said.
"The first year of service includes adapting to Army, meeting new friends, having new challenges in one's job or career, and in addition, during this time many soldiers were anticipating deployment to war at the end of their training/first year of service," Ursano said.
An Army spokeswoman noted that while a suicide attempt can lead to medical discharge, it is not grounds for automatic dismissal.
"Half the time, [suicide] is due to some mental issue, like [post-traumatic stress disorder], and the other half it is around a financial issue. They might be going through a custody battle, or maybe they can't hold their job because they are going through PTSD," said Laura Black of the Stop Soldier Suicide organization.
Attempted suicides and suicide deaths of enlisted service members has also surpassed the rate attributed to civilians in recent years. Despite the difference in classification methods between the military and civilians, Ursano's study listed 214 attempts per 100,000 civilian men aged 18-34 between 2004 and 2009. Women stood a little higher. This is a smaller number than what the study reported for soldiers.
In 2012, the Army's suicide rate stood at around 30 of every 100,000 soldiers. The civilian rate was 12.5 for every 100,000 people. The authors of this study hope that the results will allow for better treatment and prevention.
Craig Bryan, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, thought that the mental toughness esteemed by the Army discourages members from reaching out. He found that an effective treatment involved giving tougher names to traditional therapy techniques. The "hope box" becomes the "survival kit" and relaxation techniques become "tactical breathing."
"These findings identify important targets of populations for developing and enhancing interventions," Ursano said.
Of the more than 23 million veterans and 1.5 million active duty military members, 400,000 veterans suffer PTSD and an average of 22 take their lives every day. An average of 1.5 active-duty men and women do the same each day.