Does the Veterans Suicide Rate Make Sense?

(Page 2 of 2) an above-average suicide risk in households of suicide-era veterans, particularly those with service prior to 1980. But is it really that unusual to find a link between suicide risk and…

Does the Veterans Suicide Rate Make Sense?

(Page 2 of 2)

an above-average suicide risk in households of suicide-era veterans, particularly those with service prior to 1980.

But is it really that unusual to find a link between suicide risk and the veteran population?

“The experience has been that, especially with US military, that people are not as comfortable talking about mental health issues, particularly ones that affect the family,” said Martin, who began his research at the Department of Veteran Affairs Los Angeles Healthcare System before shifting to UCLA. “So it’s pretty easy to find a group of people that are intentionally underserved by health care and very unhappy that way.”

Mental health researchers have long known that within the first year of military service, there’s an 80 percent increase in the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Martin said.

Beyond the obvious sadder-but-wiser message, it might actually be possible to broaden that problem to say that it’s only the bad guys who get post-traumatic stress disorder—otherwise, Martin said, veterans would be treated for PTSD the same way as non-veterans.

“If this were true, what we’d expect to see is PTSD rates for PTSD-exposed veterans are maybe twice as high as they are in the general population,” he said. “We’re not seeing that.”

So whether or not the military’s high suicide rate was actually the results of untreated psychological problems, they’re probably unconnected.

Experts agree on one thing: the suicide rate for military veterans is certainly more than twice that of the general population.

But how does it compare to rates among non-veterans?

The best answer to that question comes from the 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It shows a U.S. veteran suicide rate of 14.5 per 100,000, for example, while the national civilian adult suicide rate is 7.5 per 100,000.

Two years earlier, in the military-specific NCHS report, the suicide rate for military veterans was also 14.5 per 100,000.

But, in both cases, the differences are huge compared to civilian suicide rates. And, if you look at it another way, the suicide rate for military veterans is more than double what it was in 2007, even though they’re a tiny part of the total population.

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