Study: Why soldiers take their own lives

February 22, 2013 1:20:49 PM PST
A new study published Friday sheds new light on what groups in the military are at higher risk of suicide and why.

Army Research Psychologists James Griffith and Mark Vaitkus looked at years of data collected by the Army National Guard for their findings.

Click here for more on the research

They said white males aged 17 to 24 are at the highest risk - regardless of whether they have been deployed overseas. The researchers said the younger men are at an age when many struggle to define who they are and how they relate to others. They also said men in other ethnic groups often have better support systems through church, family, and community.

The military has struggled to prevent suicide in its ranks. 2012 was the worst year for Army deaths, with 323 soldiers taking their lives.

While the study downplays the link between deployment and suicide, mental health professionals in the community around Fort Bragg say they're increasingly dealing with soldiers who suffer from posttraumatic stress syndrome.

Troops are coming from war zones where they're passing out candy in friendly communities one minute, and losing lives the next.

"They're in an environment where they may leave and come back and there's an IED [improvised explosive device] where they were just handing out these types of things. The fact that people don't really feel like they know who their enemy is, who they can trust, is one reason why this conflict in and out of itself is breeding so much posttraumatic stress disorder," explained psychologist, Christopher Ketchman.

Ketchman is a partner with Haymount Institute for Psychological Services, and is formerly of Womack Hospital and the Fayetteville VA Hospital. He has not seen this particular study, but offered perspective from his experience treating troops for PTSD.

Suicide is the worst consequence of PTSD, and to care for loved ones coming back from war, Ketchman says don't judge.

"We have to remember that being hyper vigilant, being one who doesn't necessarily trust folks, all of those symptoms that we would say in a civilian realm as being symptomatic of PTSD, those are all adaptive while you're in combat theater," he explained.

But we should recognize when therapy is needed, something he says the military is doing a good job with during the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"People who used to feel like it was going to be a career-damaging experience to have PTSD, they're doing a lot of work to try to prevent that," said Ketchman.

Ketchman also says it's key for families to realize the same person they saw off to war will not be the same person coming home, and that's normal.

Families can seek counseling together, as well as encouraging the loved one to go on their own.

At Fort Bragg, there are a number of prevention efforts underway to encourage soldiers to step in when their comrades are showing signs of distress.

For more on suicide prevention in the Army, follow this link:

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