Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are no more likely to commit suicide than other veterans — unless they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Then, their risk is four times higher than veterans who have not received any mental health diagnosis, according to a study published in the June Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
While psychiatric disorders are a known risk factor for suicide in the general population as well as in veterans, researchers sought to determine whether those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were especially vulnerable.
They cross-referenced the Veterans Health Administration’s National Patient Care Database with the Centers for Disease Control’s National Death Index for answers. In fiscal 2007 and 2008, there were 1,920 veteran suicides, 96 of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Analysis showed that having a mental health condition correlated with increased risk: a mental health diagnosis increased the suicide risk in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans four-fold, while other veterans with a mental health condition were 2½ times more likely to commit suicide.
The study indicated that mental health conditions, namely substance use, depression and schizophrenia — but not post-traumatic stress disorder — correlated with higher risk.
The researchers, from the Veterans Affairs Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center and VA’s Office of Mental Health Services, said the study’s findings show suicide prevention efforts and readjustment assistance are “particularly important for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with mental health problems.”
“These findings highlight the importance of mental health screening and intervention for OEF/OIF veterans,” the authors wrote.
One concern with the study was the longstanding concern that suicides go underreported and many are not listed as suicides in the CDC’s national death index.
VA is working with the states to gather better statistical data on veteran suicides.