Suicide Risk Elevated For Soldiers With Repeat Brain Injuries
May 18, 2013

Multiple Head Injuries Increase Suicide Risk In Military Personnel

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Military service personnel who suffer at least two mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are far more likely to commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts than those who have one or fewer such injuries, according to research published online Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

According to Michelle Castillo of CBS News, researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah report that TBIs, which include concussions or related injuries that interrupt brain function due to a bump or blow to the head, are a “significant injury” of those who have fought during the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. That´s because they often occur as a result of explosions or other combat-related injuries.

The study authors examined 161 members of the Armed Forces who had been stationed in Iraq and had been examined by doctors because of suspected TBIs. Their average age was 27 and their average service time was 6.5 years, Castillo said. A trained clinical psychologist completed the diagnosis, and TBI was confirmed if the patient experienced loss of memory or consciousness, an altered mental state, some form of neurological decline, or if brain damage occurred or worsened following the incident in question, she added.

They found that 21.7 percent of all patients who had suffered more than one TBI had reported suicidal ideation (the act of thinking or being preoccupied with suicide) at some point in the past. In comparison, 6.9 percent of patients who had received one TBI reported having suicidal thoughts, while zero percent of those with no such head injuries said that they had such thoughts.

“The increases were similar for suicidal thoughts during the previous year rather than at any time: 12 percent of those with multiple TBIs had entertained suicidal ideas during the past year, compared with 3.4 percent with one TBI and zero percent for no TBIs,” the researchers said, explaining that suicidal ideation was used as the suicide risk indicator due to the lack of reported history of suicide plans or attempts.

Furthermore, the investigators discovered a link between multiple TBIs and a significant increase in other psychological symptoms previously associated with head trauma. Those conditions include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the severity of the concussive symptoms. However, the authors report that increased suicide risk was only linked to increased depression severity.

“The study relates to two disturbing trends U.S. military has experienced over the last decade: an increase in suicides and an increase in concussions,” according to “In 2012, the Army experienced a record 324 suicides, exceeding the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan for that year. And numerous roadside bombs have caused thousands of military personnel to suffer from [TBI].”

“Up to now, no one has been able to say if multiple TBIs, which are common among combat veterans, are associated with higher suicide risk or not,” Craig J. Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, and lead author of the study, added in a statement. “This study suggests they are, and it provides valuable information for professionals treating wounded combat servicemen and women to help manage the risk of suicide.”