Suicides among Army personnel up 80 percent in four years

Mar 8 2012 - 6:09pm

Suicide among young Army personnel is among the saddest tolls of the country's two long wars this century. A report released Thursday found suicides among U.S. Army personnel rose 80 percent between 2004 and 2008.

For the last years in which data were available in this study, 2007 and 2008, 255 soldiers took their lives. The authors estimated that 25 percent to 50 percent of the suicides were directly related to the combat commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 1977 to 2003, suicide rates among active U.S. Army personnel were decreasing.

The suicide figures stand out against a backdrop of rising rates of mental health disorders among enlisted personnel -- what the authors of the study call "sentinels for suicide risk." From 2000 to 2008, rates of adjustment disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance-abuse disorders have soared in the Army. The number of visits for mental health disorders among personnel nearly doubled during this time.

"The 2008 rate (of mental health problems in personnel) indicates that more than one-fifth of all active duty soldiers had an ambulatory visit for a mental health disorder, implying a prevalent public health problem," the authors wrote.

They called suicides "the tip of the mental health iceberg."

Among the 255 suicides in 2007-2008, 17 percent of the soldiers previously had been hospitalized for a mental health problem during that year and 50 percent had visited a health professional for a mental health issue.

The suicide rate in the Army has surpassed that of the civilian population, according to the authors.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Injury Prevention.

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