Researchers revealed that suicides among U.S. army personnel rose 80 percent between 2004 and 2008, and it is believed that about 40 percent of these suicides are tied to U.S. military escalation in Iraq.
The study, published Wednesday in Injury Prevention, analyzed trends in US army suicides from 1977 to 2008, using information obtained from several national military sources that included information about clinical consultations, diagnoses, and treatment given.
While suicide rates among soldiers on active duty were in line with rates among the civilian population for 27 years and even slight decline from 1977 to 2003, there was a surge in suicide rates after 2004.
During 2007 and 2008, 20 per 100,000 soldiers on active duty committed suicide, compared with the expected rate of 12 per 100,000 people every year.
After analyzing past historical trends in comparison with 2008 suicide rates, researchers believe that 39 percent of army suicides were associated with the U.S. and Iraq war.
Analysis results revealed that the youngest soldiers between the ages of 18 and 24 accounted for 45 percent of suicides, and 54 percent of suicides were among soldiers of low rank, and 69 percent of soldiers who committed suicide had been deployed in active combat.
The findings reveal that the increase in suicides paralleled with the increase in mental health issues, and suicide rates were also higher among soldiers diagnosed with a mental illness compared to those diagnosed in the preceding year.
Soldiers who had been admitted to hospital for a mental health disorder were 15 times more likely to commit suicide than those who had not, and those who had an outpatient consultation for a mental health issue were almost four times more likely to commit suicide compared to those who had not received outpatient of hospital care for mental illness.
Depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance misuse, as well as personality and adjustment disorders and psychosis were all linked to a greater suicide risk.
Soldiers with severe depression were 11 times more likely to take their own lives and those with anxiety disorders were 10 times more likely to do so.
More than 25 percent of soldiers who committed suicide had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder, which is immediate emotional fall-out from being in close proximity to stressful events.
"This increase, unprecedented in over 30 years of US Army records, suggests that approximately 40% 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."
Suicide is complex and many variables contribute to the act of taking one’s own life, and the latest findings underline the need for improvement in methods of identifying, monitoring, and treating those who are potentially at risk, the study authors concluded.