March 2, 2009

Young ex-Brit military face suicide risk

Men age 24 or less who left the British armed forces have higher suicide risk than men in the general population or in active service, researchers said.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, said the risk appears to be greatest in the first two years after discharge, in those with a short length of service, and in those of lower rank.

The study also found a low rate of contact with mental health specialists in the year before death -- 14 percent for those age 20 and younger and 20 percent for those age 20-24.

Nav Kapur of the Center for Suicide Prevention, University of Manchester, and colleagues conducted a cohort study, in which they linked data on everyone who left the British armed forces between 1996 and 2005 with information on suicides collected by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide.

During the study period, 233,803 individuals left the armed forces and 224 died by suicide.

The researchers found that the overall suicide rate in the ex-military personnel was similar to that in the general population, but the rate was increased in young men.

Young people who leave the military could be targeted for suicide prevention strategies, such as practical and psychological preparation for discharge and encouraging appropriate help-seeking behavior once individuals have left the services, Kapur said.