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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Increased Suicide Risk On Young Men Leaving The UK Armed Forces

A new study in this week´s PLoS Medicine, reports that the risk of suicide increases two to three time on young men 24 years old or less who leave the UK Armed Forces than those remaining in active service or those in the general population.

In the first two years after discharge, the risk seems to increase in the men with short length of service, and those of inferior rank. Just 14 percent of 20 years old or less and 20 percent of 24 years old or under, had communication with mental health specialists in the year prior to their death, according to the study.

Nav Kapur, Center for Suicide Prevention, University of Manchester, UK, and his team, conducted a cohort study, using data from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide in connection to all the people who left the UK Armed Forces between 1996 and 2005. The Inquiry, since 1996, has been gathering data on all the suicides in the UK, as well as whether the deceased had contact with mental health services in the year prior to death. Of the 233,803 individuals who left the Armed Forces, 224 committed suicide, during the study period.

The overall suicide rate of the ex-military personnel was comparable to that of the general population, according to the study. Although the absolute risk of suicide is small (in 16 to 19 years old, the rate of suicide was of 29.9 per 100,000 persons and in 20 to 24 years old, 34.0 per 100,000 persons), the rate was higher for younger men.

The cause for the higher risk in young men was not established in the study but researchers point out three key potential elements: -Anxiety due to transition to civilian life -Experience of difficult circumstances while in the military -Vulnerability to suicide prior to enrolling in the military According to the study, there is some proof to confirm the third possibility, since inexpert recruits leaving the military after short lengths of service were at highest risk of suicide. The increased risk may reveal a pre-military weakness.

Kapur and his team suggest suicide prevention strategies should be targeted to young people leaving the military. They say these might incorporate "practical and psychological preparation for discharge and encouraging appropriate help-seeking behavior once individuals have left the services".

Jitender Sareen and Shay-Lee Belik, University of Manitoba, Winipeg Canada, who are both unrelated to the study, underline in an expert commentary, the example of the US Air Force which has a suicide program for the exposed military population. They also reflect on suicide prevention in general public health.

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