It has long been understood that service men and women with repeated traumatic brain injuries have heightened risks of suicide or suicidal impulses, but recently it has been proven these issues are much longer lasting than previously thought.
The study, lead by Craig Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, found that multiple traumatic brain injuries raised the risk of suicide throughout soldiers’ lifetimes.
The report, published in JAMA Psychiatry, also found that many of these soldiers had suffered concussions while playing sports before joining the military, and the long term affects were then compounded by combat-related injuries.
Bryan’s research took active-duty soldiers in Iraq in 2009, and gathered information about their suicidal thoughts after returning to base with cases of TBI. He found that almost a quarter who had experienced more than a single brain injury in their life reported suicidal ideation, compared to just six percent with similar thoughts who had only one TBI.
One of the most interesting accessory findings of Bryan’s study is that as many as twenty-percent of military members are suffering brain injuries during basic training, leaving them terribly at risk once they are placed into combat. Another frightening fact; some service members suffered as many as fifteen traumatic brain injuries while deployed.
There is some good news about the military’s treatment of brain injuries, or more specifically the values the military puts into its soldiers before their injuries. Bryan stressed that though the number of soldiers with suicidal thoughts is high, the number of soldiers actually taking their lives is much lower.
“Resiliency is the rule,” he told Frontline. “Most service members sustaining TBI do recover, do get better, do move on. I don’t want to induce hopelessness in people who have been blasted multiple times in the line of duty.”