Researchers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Healthcare System and the University of Michigan studied the records of more than three million veterans over the course of seven years – starting in 1999 – and found that 7,684 of them committed suicide. Approximately half of the veterans who committed suicide had a psychiatric disorder.
The researchers found that many of the veterans who committed suicide were suffering from a mental health disorder. Among men, the most at-risk group was those afflicted with bipolar disorder. This was followed by followed by depression, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, other anxiety disorders and PTSD. Among females, substance abuse disorders were linked with higher suicide rates, followed by bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD and other anxiety disorders.
In total, bipolar disorder was the psychiatric disorder most closely linked with suicide. Bipolar disorder accounts for nine percent of all psychiatric disorders suffered by veterans. However, all psychiatric disorders included in the study were linked to an increased risk of suicide, including depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders.
The VA may be able to use the data to help prevent veteran suicides. Researchers wrote that bipolar disorder was “particularly appropriate for targeted intervention efforts or attempts to improve medication adherence” because of its prevalence. The study also found that the VA failed to recognize many of the psychological disorders that afflicted veterans, perhaps due to the fact that soldiers often hide their psychological problems for fear of harming their careers.
“This could be owing to stigma, which may have made individuals less likely to report their mental health symptoms to physicians, an effect that could be more pronounced among men with military experience,” the researchers wrote.
Beyond the estimated $1 trillion cost just to pay for the war, researchers believe that the costs to cover the medical benefits needed for veterans will be astronomical. In a 2008 study, RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research firm, found that one third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, or major depression.