A study conducted by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco has noted that veterans with more experiences involving killing were twice as likely to have reported suicidal thoughts as veterans with fewer or no experience involving killing.
In the study, the authors created for variables or categories of killing: killing enemy combatants; killing prisoners; killing civilians, in general and killing or injuring women, children or the elderly. For each veteran in the study, those experience variables were combined into a single composite score. Veterans with high composite scores had a greater likelihood of experiencing thoughts about suicide. The researchers adjusted for other variables which included: Post-traumatic stress disorder; depression, substance use disorders and exposure to combat.
Other research supports that veterans are at an elevated risk for suicide when compared to people with no military service. In 2009, the suicide rate in the U.S. Army had risen to 21.8 per 100,000 soldiers, at rate alarmingly above the civilian population. The study’s lead author, Dr. Shira Maguen, a psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, stated: “we want clinicians and suicide prevention coordinators to be aware of that in analyzing a veteran’s risk of suicide, killing in combat is an additional factor that they may or may not be aware of.” The study further linked PTSD to actual suicide attempts which is consistent with other studies.
Can clinicians working with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan apply this study to prevent suicide among returning veterans and to better provide veterans with treatment environments in which the understanding of the role of combat in creating distress can be made part of therapy? Dr. Jonathan Shay, a leading expert on PTSD in the veteran population has long used the concept of “beserk rage” to help veteran’s in treatment address the combat experience. Certainly, the study involving Vietnam vets offers us powerful insights into evaluating combat as a major factor to consider in suicidal thinking.
Reference: University of California- San Francisco. (2012, April 20). “Vietnam Veterans, Killing in War and Suicidal Thoughts.” Medical News Today.