Veterans who come home to spouses or partners are at greater risk for suicide than returning single soldiers, according to a surprising new study. Moreover, older married female vets are at the highest risk.
Findings sound counterintuitive, but the support and company provided to veterans home from deployment may be offset by pressures and demands of sharing a domestic environment, suggest researchers at the University of Connecticut.
“It certainly makes sense when you think about it,” said study co-author Crystal Park, a UConn psychology professor. “There are added pressures that come with maintaining a relationship and meeting household needs.”
Findings are based on responses of 772 recently returned veterans with an average of 35 who participated in the government Survey of Experiences of Returning Veterans (SERV). Women made up more than 40% of those surveyed.
There are added pressures that come with maintaining a relationship and meeting household needs.”
Participants had served in Iran, Afghanistan and surrounding areas as part of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn. The majority — 62% — served in the Army, and 75% reported exposure to combat, notes the study published in the journal Archives of Suicide Research.
More than 20% of those surveyed reported thoughts of suicide, with 6% reporting a past attempt and current thoughts of suicide. Significantly, the study confirmed prior reports of female veterans, in general, being at increased risk of suicide relative to men.
“People may have expectations when they’re away and when they return it’s not what they imagined, the romance may not be there,” said Park. “It’s just the daily grind and that can drive up stress levels and increase feelings of despair.”
In addition to the relationship status of returning veterans, the study analyzed the roles of religion and spirituality as it relates to suicide risk. Researchers found that vets’ negative attitudes in these regards were at significantly higher risk for suicide, even after accounting for depression and other variables.
“There are a lot more veterans out there thinking about suicide and who are in despair and we really do owe them some kind of help for these issues,” said Park.