Deployment Is Not a Major Factor Behind the Rise in Military Suicides, Study Finds

Mike O'Brien

A major new study into military suicides plays down the effects of deployments to war zones, saying it was not a major factor behind the steep rise in deaths from 2001 to 2008.

The research, financed by the Department of Defense and published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, backs up what many military medical experts believe: that the causes underlying the spike in military suicides are similar to those in the civilian world -- mental illness, substance abuse and financial and relationship problems.

The authors, based at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, wrote: "The findings from this study are not consistent with the assumption that specific deployment-related characteristics, such as length of deployment, number of deployments, or combat experiences, are directly associated with increased suicide risk.

"Instead, the risk factors associated with suicide in this military population are consistent with civilian populations, including male sex and mental disorders."

The study, however, does not completely rule out deployment to combat zones as a factor. It notes that the stresses of 12 years of war may have worn on all service members, creating work and travel demands far outstripping those borne by peacetime troops.

Critics of the study point to the fact that it ends in 2008, which means it would naturally underestimate the the impact of multiple deployments and traumatic brain injuries, the New York Times reports.

But Cynthia Leard Mann, the lead author on the study, said the research team planned to update the study to include data through 2012. Even so, she said she was confident that its conclusions would remain the same.

For the study, researchers looked at data for more than 150,000 current and former service members from all the armed services.

Culled from the National Death Index and Defense Department personnel records, the researchers found within that group 83 service members who committed suicide, of whom 58 percent had never deployed.

The researchers found that suicide rates were highest among men and among people with manic-depressive disorder, depression and alcohol problems.

The report’s authors said their findings could point to more effective approaches to reducing suicide, citing in particular programs that focus on depression and alcohol abuse.

Military healthcare will be discussed at IDGA’s DoD/VA mHealth summit in November. For more details, go to