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Soldiers Hospitalized for Mental Illness Face Raised Suicide Risk, Study Shows

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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- American soldiers hospitalized with mental health disorders have a significantly increased risk of suicide in the year after they leave the hospital, a new study finds.

The researchers also identified a number of common factors among the 5 percent of soldiers with the highest risk of suicide.

The suicide rate in the U.S. Army has increased since 2004, and is now higher than the civilian rate.

Researchers looked at more than 40,000 active duty U.S. Army soldiers who were hospitalized with psychiatric disorders between 2004 and 2009.

Within 12 months of being discharged from the hospital, 68 of the soldiers committed suicide, accounting for 12 percent of all U.S. Army suicides during this period.

Five percent of soldiers with the highest predicted risk of suicide accounted for nearly 53 percent of post-hospitalization suicides. They also had higher rates of suicide attempts, accidental deaths and rehospitalization.

Common factors among soldiers at highest risk for suicide included: being male; enlisting at a later age; criminal offenses; weapons possession; previous suicide attempts; certain aspects of previous psychiatric treatment, such as the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled in 12 months; and disorders diagnosed during hospitalization.

These risk factors could be used to develop an algorithm to predict soldiers' risk of suicide after hospitalization for psychiatric disorders so they could be helped, according to the authors of the study published in the Nov. 12 issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

"Although interventions in this high-risk [group] would not solve the entire U.S. Army suicide problem given that post-hospitalization suicides account for only 12 percent of all U.S. Army suicides, the algorithm would presumably help target preventive interventions. Before clinical implementation, though, several key issues must be addressed," wrote study author Ronald Kessler, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues.

"The high concentration of risk of suicides and other adverse outcomes might justify targeting expanded post-hospitalization interventions to soldiers classified as having highest post-hospitalization suicide risk, although final determination requires careful consideration of intervention costs, comparative effectiveness and possible adverse effects," the study authors wrote.

More information

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers resources for veterans.

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