U.S. Army’s Silent Killer

STORY BY Candace Bryan

Published: May 28, 2013

It’s a hard fact to swallow, but in the last year, more soldiers in the U.S. army died as a result of suicide than died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was 324 suicide deaths. Also, in the last ten years, the rate of suicide in the army has doubled to 20 per 100,000 annually. Yet in this same time, the number of concussions, or traumatic brain injuries, has also grown. More soldiers have been exposed to roadside bombs, and suffered such injuries, and some studies suggest that this increase could possibly explain the newly growing rates of military suicide.

Specifically, one study published recently has illuminated that soldiers who have had multiple concussions are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and feelings than those who have not. The study  gathered information from 157 soldiers and 4 civilian volunteers about their history of concussions and assessed if they’d had brain injury. It also got their history of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide thoughts. The results were interesting.

18 of the participants in the study had never experienced concussions, and all of those 18 reported no instances of suicidal thoughts in the past year. Yet of the 58 soldiers who had experienced a concussion, 3% claimed to have had such thoughts. And for those who had had multiple concussions, the rate of suicidal thoughts was a whopping 12%.

“All of a sudden the likelihood of being suicidal increased dramatically once you had the second head injury,” said Craig Bryan, the leading author the study, who worked as an Air Force psychologist in Iraq.

This seems to point to a direct link between brain injury and likelihood of suicide in the military, but findings are still somewhat uncertain. As with all studies of this ilk, there is always a chance that interviewed patients may have provided false information do to shame, or other reasons they might want to skill. Also, even if all the information provided is accurate, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

However, it’s fascinating and sad that military suicides are on the rise, and it’s good that studies are trying to find the cause. The United States spends a lot of money on the military, and works tirelessly to recruit new members, but life in the military is not as fun and glamorous as their commercials make it seem. Especially given that 20% of soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan suffered concussions, the U.S. should invest more in physical and psychological health of soldiers and veterans.

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