Infantry Soldiers Experience High Risk of Suicide; Research Suggests It's Because of the Type of Personality Drawn to That Specialty

By Davis, Clifford | The Florida Times Union, May 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

Infantry Soldiers Experience High Risk of Suicide; Research Suggests It's Because of the Type of Personality Drawn to That Specialty


Davis, Clifford, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Clifford Davis

A sweeping new Army study has found that some of America's fiercest warriors experience the highest risk of suicide: the infantry.

From their psychological makeup and their training to their combat experience, a growing body of research suggests the very qualities and training that enable them to kick down doors in trouble spots around the globe could create a perfect storm for suicide.

"We found that the infantry MOS [military occupational specialty] and a few others involving combat arms had a significantly elevated suicide risk," said Michael Schoenbaum, one of the scientific leaders of the Army STARRS study that focuses on suicide risk and resilience among soldiers.

The study, expected to be released later this year, comes at a time when the Department of Defense is paying more attention to suicides in the ranks and among veterans. Among current service members the suicide rate is remaining steady but historically high, while the number of veterans killing themselves represents one of every four suicides in Florida.

The study, a collaborative effort between the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health, began after Secretary of the Army Pete Geren approached the institute in 2008 with concerns about the Army's alarming rise in suicides.

In 2004, the Army experienced a suicide rate of about 10 soldiers per 100,000. By 2008, that rate had doubled and would nearly triple in 2012 to 28 per 100,000.

"The suicide rate in demographically comparable civilians was flat over this same period at about 18 to 19 per 100,000," Schoenbaum said. "So this huge increase in the active-duty Army was unique to the Army; it wasn't because suicides were rising everywhere in society."

Just why infantry soldiers in particular are more at risk isn't settled, but clues are emerging.

Most prior research on military suicide focused on the military as a whole, making broad assumptions about a population as different from each other as the civilian population.

"Let's call it nonsense," Schoenbaum said.

EFFECT OF DEPLOYMENT

One assumption was that deployments don't affect suicide risk, a conclusion drawn by a team of researchers from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego. The study, published in the Aug. 7 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, used research from service members across the military spectrum.

"There's no reason why one should expect the experience of being deployed if you're in the Navy or the Air Force is the same as the experience in the Army or Marines when you actually have boots on the ground," Schoenbaum said. …

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