Among Depressed Veterans, Young, White Men Most at Risk for Suicide
> 11/1/2007 11:52:03 AM

As more soldiers return home from Iraq, researchers continue to study the problems that hinder veterans' lives after war. The largest and most comprehensive study of suicide among depressed veterans provides new information about those most at risk. The study, conducted by researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare system, the University of Michigan Health System and U-M Depression Center, demonstrates that, although the greatest rates of suicide in the general population occur among the elderly, young men are most at risk within the ranks of veterans suffering from depression. The study will appear in the December 2007 issue of American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers collected data from 807, 694 veterans who had been diagnosed with depression and treated at any Veterans Affairs facility between 1999 and 2004. They sorted the participants into three age groups: 18-44 years of age, 45-64 years of age, and 65 years or older. The researchers also took into account the presence or absence of a disability sustained during military service. Overall, 1,683, or 0.21%, of the veterans committed suicide between 1999 and 2004. The researchers calculated that 89.5 men per 100,000 committed suicide, compared with 28.9 women. For whites, 95 per 100,000 committed suicide, compared with 27 African-Americans and 56.1 for other races. Suicide rates also differed significantly by age group. At 94.9 per 100,000, the rate was highest among 18-44 year-olds. Those 65 years and older had the second highest rate, at 90, and those 44-64 years old had the lowest rate, at 77.9.  In the general population, older white men with depression and/or substance abuse problems are most likely to commit suicide, but this study shows that when drawing subjects from a pool of military veterans, younger men are most at risk.

Surprisingly, those diagnosed with both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were less likely (68.1 per 100,000) to commit suicide than those diagnosed with just depression (90.7 per 100,000). Those who did not have a service-related disability were also more likely to commit suicide than those disabled by their time spent in the service. The researchers theorize that veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD or a service-related disability are less likely to commit suicide because they receive more health benefits and larger compensation payments from Veterans Affairs. These individuals may also be more likely to seek therapy for both their physical and mental injuries.

Although the study did not directly compare depressed veterans to depressed non-veterans, it has shown that the problems faced by veterans, especially those just returning from war, must be addressed. 1.5 million veterans have been diagnosed with depression since 1997, and we must ensure they get the help they need. The researchers will continue to analyze the results of this study and will look for connections between different depression treatments and suicide. With more information about the associations between depression and suicide in veterans, we can pinpoint those veterans who need help the most and hopefully allow them achieve happier, more fulfilling lives.

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