Does War Drive Our Troops To Suicide?

Military suicides have been increasing since 2002, and have “risen to record levels for four straight years.”

The suicide rate for veterans and active-duty members of the military is lower than for civilians, but when compared to civilians of similar demographics (e.g., primarily young white males), it is higher for service personnel.

The causes of the increase in self-inflicted military fatalities is not clear. There is evidence that combat deployments are not one of them. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “Risk Factors Associated with Suicide in Current and Former U.S. Military Personnel,” found that suicide risk is not associated with “military-specific variables.”

Instead, the study concluded, current and former members of the military commit suicide for the same reasons civilians do: “mental illness, substance abuse, and financial and relationship problems,” according to The New York Times.

On the other hand, there are also signs that the trauma of battle may be an important cause for the rising numbers: a 2009 report from the Army’s surgeon general showed that suicide among troops who served in Iraq between 2004 and 2007 rose from 13.5 to 24.8 per 100,000. The rate of suicide among active duty personnel is higher than that of civilians.

The principal investigator who collected the raw data the JAMA study relied on qualified the inferences to be drawn from her research about the impetus behind military suicides: “perhaps it’s not being deployed so much as being in a war during a high-stress time period,” she said. Critics of the JAMA study point out that it is based on data ending in 2008. Since then, multiple deployments and brain injuries from roadside bombs have both grown, and therefore the study might underestimate their role in suicides. The study’s authors plan to update their findings with data from 2008 to 2012.

The primary causes of suicide both in the military and among civilians are mental disorders like depressionsubstance abuse and poverty. Poverty among veterans is declining as their employment rates rise, perhaps thanks to an Obama initiative to connect unemployed vets with jobs. In fact, at 6.3 percent, their unemployment rate is now lower than that of the general population, which is 7.4 percent.

The military is evaluating its suicide prevention programs. These include efforts to reduce the stigma that service personnel associate with mental illness and increase awareness of the warning signs and causes of suicide. But publicly available information on the military’s programs is vague.

The jury is out on whether active combat duty increases the risk of suicide. For the time being, we should keep it in mind in debates about bringing troops home from war zones and putting them on the ground in new battles.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/Hemera


Stanley R.
Stanley R4 years ago

A huge % of war vet suicides remain unreported, on a par with rape convictions in the US military. The incidence of severe mental illness, PTS is colossal.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

That is a very accurate statement Elonora.

War is the terror of the rich and terror is the war of the poor – that’s the only difference.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

Being treated as a commodity in obtaining world domination... has that effect...yes!

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

To Donna – You’re right; the people of the US had the sympathy of the people worldwide. But this vanished very fast when it became obvious what it was all about - the whole 9/11 scam which nobody is allowed to really question and investigate - and what was left was the complicity of the governments to join hand in unjustified wars.

We shouldn’t forget who created “Al Qaida” in the first place and who obviously still supports it – see Syria, Lybia and to a lesser extent Egypt – although at the same breath it was taken as a handy excuse to start the infamous “War on Terror”. I guess that’s called “Realpolitik”? To hell with it! We, the people, always and without exception are forced to pay the price.

The true revolution has long been taken away from the Syrian people like it was taken from the Egyptians - but we took it back (for the moment?) and look at the hoopla it caused in the West. We seem to have destroyed big plans. Those left fighting in Syria are the ones on the payroll of and trained and armed by the West. The Syrian people who wanted safety, freedom and a decent future for themselves and their kids are left out in the cold. They simply don't figure in the equation of "high politics". People never figure in the conspiracy plans of the elite politique!

War is the terror of the rich and terror is the war of the poor – that’s the only difference.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

thank you to all the people who left comments. You've given me a lot of food for thought. it seems like the U.S.'s wars just since 2001 have gone on _forever_ . Al Qaida is still out there. what good has all the killing done? on Sept. 11, 2001 we had the goodwill of many nations. but that was thrown away in the rush to Iraq. the wrong war, the wrong people. No Iraqis were on the hijacked planes. right now, it's Syria's civil war. facing the gassed bodies is terrible, but . . . how is Syria's civil war different from Iraq's . . . or Vietnam? just asking.

Angelus Silesius
Angelus S4 years ago

War is not good for everyone.However, as a whole kids coming America are not mentally and physically being prepared for the brutal realities of war so when it comes they break down.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

It seems that not only the US Army but also the Israeli Army is affected by suicides - although the numbers are naturally (and thankfully) smaller.

But still it is the Number 1 killer in the IDF.

"The report, based on research conducted by the government watchdog organization and data obtained from the military, said that in 2011, suicides made up 37 percent of total deaths by active soldiers, costing 21 lives. In comparison, 15 soldiers died in traffic accidents, 12 succumbed to diseases, six died in non-vehicular accidents and two were killed in combat operations."


"The topic of military suicides made headlines in Israel in recent weeks after an anonymous blogger, calling himself Ishton, was called in for police questioning after he noted a discrepancy between the official number of new IDF casualties for 2011 (officially, 126 deaths at the time) and the smaller list of names, dates and stories on the Yizkor memorial website managed by the Defense Ministry. Among other conclusions, Ishton deduced that the military was concealing information from the public."

Makes one wonder how many are truly officially registered in both Armies.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


John B.
John B4 years ago

When one creates a loophole in basic morality because of war (murdering others) then you are going to get a tremendous backlash from those who are placed on the lines to do the murdering. WW II there was an attack and worldwide threat and individuals took up arms against the aggressor. They had a purpose in their action to protect their families and fellows. Going into these other countries where there is no threat to one's own has no real purpose to the individual and so one knows that they are the aggressor not the country being invaded. The individual soldier has no purpose in doing this. He is acting robotically because he has orders that the individual cannot justify. So, Haliburton or some other company can make billions of dollars is not significant justification for the soldier to murder others.

The war machine has to understand that when one takes the life and future away from another being by having one of their own men slaughter another, whether a combatant or not, he is issuing a death sentence upon that soldier. During the bombing of London in WW II there were no cases of psychotic episodes because the people were banded together with a common purpose and common resolve. Yet through the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan US soldiers are cracking up at an alarming rate.

Esworth L.
.4 years ago

Luis L. has it right. Bring back a fair draft. Make every American citizen pay for our wars with their families lives, just like they pay with their taxes. Things would turn right around, like they did in the '60s.