Study: Suicide Attempt Can Trigger Others

Washington Report

(August 1, 2017) Army units in which soldiers attempt suicide are more likely to experience additional attempts from other soldiers, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, a professional journal.

Compared to soldiers in units with no suicide attempts, soldiers in units that have a suicide attempt are 40 percent more likely to try it themselves, the researchers found. If a unit has had five more suicide attempts in the past year, the likelihood of a further attempt is twice as high as those units with no suicide attempts.

“Clusters do occur, and if there is a suicide attempt in an Army unit, there is likely to be another attempt in the unit,” Dr. Robert Ursano, the study’s lead author, told Reuters. Ursano is at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services in Bethesda, Maryland.

He and his colleagues identified more than 9,500 soldiers who had attempted suicide between 2004 and 2009. Most were white men under the age of 29 who were educated, married and had joined the service before turning 21.

Combat experience of the soldiers was not a factor and smaller units had a greater risk. Reasons could be related to stresses on the units, such as a command change or preparing for or returning from a deployment.

Ursano said the results could have significance for civilians.

“These days, it should not be forgotten that people live in groups, communities and families,” he told Reuters.

He said future research could look at the suicide risk from a group perspective rather than that of the individual.