Research surveys tell us that suicide among military service veterans is roughly twice as common as suicide in the general non-veteran population. Recent data indicates that suicide among veterans may be much more common than previously believed. This is because of the inaccuracy of reporting of suicides in the majority of states. Research has revealed multiple risk factors as well as protective factors. Something that needs to be addressed is why many veterans who contemplate suicide at some point in their life never follow through while others do. Thus understanding suicidal thoughts versus suicide attempts is important.
How Many Veterans Think of Suicide?
A study published in General Hospital Psychiatry tells us that more than a fourth of US military service veterans contemplate suicide at some point during their life. The majority of these individuals do not attempt to end their lives. Why is that? Understanding the differences between veterans who think about suicide but do not act and those who follow through with at one or more attempts to end their life should help prevent suicide among veterans going forward.
Factors Related to Suicide Attempts Instead of Just Suicidal Ideation
The researchers in this study found several factors that helped differentiate individuals who thought about suicide but did not make an attempt to end their lives from those who attempted suicide at least once. Since this was a survey of living veterans, there was no data from individuals who had already taken their own lives. In order of statistical significance the factors likely to lead to suicide attempts in veterans with suicidal ideation were younger age, prior non-suicidal self-injury, adverse experiences during childhood, alcohol abuse, lower household income, and physical disability.
Known Suicide Risk Factors
This study is a useful snapshot of a part of the veteran suicide problem. Because it does not include data from veterans who ended their lives the picture it provides is incomplete. However, as a picture of those with suicidal ideation who did not take the next step it is useful. The risk factors identified in this study are similar to those known to relate to veteran suicide. Suicide risk factors can be broken down into individual, relationship ship, and community/societal factors.
Individual Suicide Risk Factors
Personal risk factors for suicide include a previous attempt at suicide, mental illness or depression, chronic pain and/or serious illness, legal or criminal problems, loss of employment or other financial difficulties, aggressive or impulsive nature, substance abuse disorder, a sense of hopelessness, adverse experiences in childhood, and violent victimization. As we can see, adverse childhood experiences, a prior suicide attempt, financial problems/low income fit into both the study and the larger picture of suicide.
Relationship Risk Factors For Suicide
Relationships are important in life and when they are in trouble so is the individual. Relationship problems that contribute to a risk of suicide include bullying, loss of a relationship, a history of suicide by family or a loved one, social isolation or lack of relationships. We do not see much of a correlation between these factors in the big picture and the study of suicidal ideation and attempts.
Community Risk Factors for Suicide
There are several factors in a person’s community that can increase the risk of suicide by an individual. These include having no access to healthcare, stress of integrating into a community, violence in the community, a cluster of suicides in the community, and discrimination within the community. Another factor that can affect a community but also society at large is access to firearms and the community’s attitude regarding firearms. None of these factors show up in the suicidal ideation versus attempts study.
Why Do Veterans Consider Suicide and Not Commit Suicide?
So many times those who have tried to end their lives say that there was no other way out of their suffering. They did not see a valid reason to keep living. People who have strong and meaningful relationships are less likely to arrive at such a conclusion. Those with stable jobs and sufficient income are also less likely not to see a good reason to keep living. Also people who have seen a lot of life generally have a different perspective on their problems. This is probably part of why younger veterans have a higher suicide risk than older veterans despite older vets typically having more health problems and potential for relationship loss. The bottom line is that by working to strengthen the positive factors in life the likelihood of a suicide attempt goes down.