Physical and sexual assault linked to increased suicide risk in military

January 18, 2013

According to results of a new study by researchers at the University of Utah, military personnel experience increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions if they were the victims of physical or violent sexual assault as adults. In contrast, undergraduate students experience increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions if they were the victims of unwanted sexual experiences as children or adults.

While other research has shown that victims of sexual or are at increased risk of —including suicide—the majority of that work has focused on victims sexually assaulted as children. Much less is known about the connections in a context. Consequently, this new study looked at the experiences of two groups of adults—active military personnel and young people not in active —and then it assessed the potential impact of various kinds of on in each.

"Suicide is a growing concern in the military, as is the issue of interpersonal assault," says Craig Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and associate director of the center. "Understanding how different kinds of assaults can increase risk for and behaviors in military personnel is a major step toward better care for those men and women in service to our country."

The findings are from a new study published today in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior and conducted by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.

Who is at risk of suicide and why?

The goal of the study was to investigate potential links between various types of physical and and suicidal thoughts and actions. Data was collected from two sample groups—273 active duty U.S. Air Force personnel and 309 undergraduate college students—via surveys completed anonymously by the participants. A process to assure for both groups was considered important, primarily to eliminate concerns about confidentiality or stigma in the military group.

All participants were surveyed on five different measures: currently entertaining ideas of suicide; history of previous suicide attempts; severity of depression or anxiety; sense of belonging or connectedness; and history of sexual or physical assaults. Results showed that different types of assault are associated with suicidal actions or behaviors in from those among . The results persist even while controlling for potentially confounding factors like age, gender, relationship status and emotional distress.

For those in the military, being a victim of rape, robbery or violent physical assault as an adult showed a stronger relationship to actual suicide attempts than other types of assault, and physical abuse and battering as an adult were more closely linked to simply thinking about suicide. While for the students, unwanted sexual experiences as an adult or childhood abuse were more strongly connected with both suicide attempts and ideation, than were other types of violence.

Age and marital status may account in part for the difference. The average age of those in the military group was nearly 26, and the students' was just under 20. Further, 57 percent of the military participants were married, while 61 percent of the students were single and never married. For the military population, being somewhat older and more likely to be married, violent assaults, physical abuse and battering may be more relevant than for the students, for whom sexual abuse is more prevalent in general.

Risks increase with multiple assaults

Perhaps not surprisingly, the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions rises as the number of assaults experienced increases. This finding held true with both groups. Repeated victimization from violent assaults is especially pernicious, the authors note.

"Taken together, these data are important because they point practitioners to specific life experiences that can help identify and intervene for those at risk of suicide before the unthinkable happens," says Bryan.

An important direction for future research will be to uncover if some combinations of assaults are more troubling than others, and in which populations.

Explore further: Increased risk of suicidal thoughts among adolescents appears related to recent victimization

Related Stories

Increased risk of suicidal thoughts among adolescents appears related to recent victimization

October 22, 2012
An increased risk of suicidal ideation (thoughts of harming or killing oneself) in adolescents appears to be associated with recent victimization, such as by peers, sexual assault, and maltreatment, according to a report ...

More than half a million California adults think seriously about committing suicide, study reveals

December 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—More than half a million adults in California seriously thought about committing suicide during the previous year, according to a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Self-injury in young people is gateway to suicide

December 5, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)—deliberately harming one's body through such acts as cutting, burning or biting—is a primary risk factor for future suicide in teens and young adults, finds a new longitudinal ...

Physical abuse may raise risk of suicidal thoughts

April 24, 2012
The study, published online this month in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, found that approximately one-third of adults who were physically abused in childhood had seriously considered taking their own life. ...

The Medical Minute: Sexual abuse can have long-term effects

April 16, 2012
April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is, unfortunately, a rampant issue. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), someone in the United States is sexually assaulted ...

Recommended for you

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

justiceday
not rated yet Jan 18, 2013
The fact is the military could care less about sexual assault victims or anyone who is suicidal. And the worst part is they teach marines to use PTSD to get out of rape.
We had a Sgt. Maj. in the marines admit to us they don't care if these guys are suicidal.

the site www the us marines rape com
has a lot of evidence that the marines are not denying.
SHL Outreach
not rated yet Jan 22, 2013
There's a place where military survivors can talk to trained sexual assault professionals – without the chain of command ever finding out. Check out DoD's Safe Helpline at safehelpline.org or 877-995-5247.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.