KANSAS CITY, Kan. — More than 2,700 active duty service members have died by suicide in the past decade. Sixty-five hundred veterans take their own lives each year.
Researchers wanted to know if having been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan increased the chances of suicide in active duty personnel and veterans. The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that at least through 2008, it didn’t.
Those who hadn’t been deployed were just as likely to take their own lives. So what were the primary risk factors for suicide? Mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder and alcohol problems.
Jackie Kuykendall, who served in the Army in the 1990s, says she attempted suicide in 2008. She had family and financial problems, but under it all was major depression.
“It clouds everything. It touches everything. You don’t make decisions the same way,” said Jackie.
Susan Crain Lewis, president of Mental Health America of the Heartland, said the greatest risk factor for suicide among all people is the presence of a mental health condition. She adds that any stressor, including deployment, can worsen the condition.
Lewis notes that the study only ran until 2008 and deployment, especially multiple deployments, may have become more of a risk factor since then.
Jackie said there are a lot of stressors being in the military.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be in the military until you’re in, and nothing can prepare you for that,” said Jackie.
She encourages fellow vets and active duty personnel to seek help. The difference it can make?
“Life or death. Absolutely,” said Jackie.
Active duty personnel and veterans in crisis and their families and friends can call the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
For more on resources in the community, go to our ‘You Matter’ section on our Web site.