Suicidal Thoughts, Acts Widespread Among Veterans at College
College students who are military veterans are significantly more likely to consider suicide than college students in general, according to a study by the National Center for Veterans' Studies at the University of Utah.
“These alarming numbers underscore the urgent need for universities to be adequately staffed and prepared to assist and treat student veterans,” wrote lead researcher M. David Rudd.
Researchers surveyed 525 veterans with backgrounds representative of the U.S. military, and found that 46 percent of respondents reported suicidal thinking at some point. 20 percent reported having suicidal thoughts with a plan to end their lives, and a sobering 7.7 reported a suicide attempt.
The study is representative of the current generation of active service member, who have taken part in this decade’s wars in the Middle East. 58 to 60 percent of veterans surveyed had experienced combat, and 98 percent had been deployed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Those rates contrast with much lower rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts in the general population: In 2010, 6 percent of college students report seriously considering suicide, and 1.3 percent report attempting to commit suicide, according to the American College Health Association.
These results shouldn’t be at all surprising in light of existing research on military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a 2007 study by Portland State University, male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as civilians in the general population. And foreshadowing the survey by the University of Utah, veterans with the most education are at the highest risk, according to the Portland study.
Elevated suicide rates among veterans are no doubt connected to the enormous pressures to which military personnel are subjected during combat. The crushing new anxieties of insurgent warfare that have characterized the theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan may be especially conducive to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is in turn correlated with suicide risk. And with the additional stress of a poor economy and extended tours of duty during the wars of the last decade, many service members are concerned about their families back home as well.
The University of Utah survey brings the horror of war home by directing our attention to the suffering of student veterans, but for veterans whose lives have been disrupted by unnecessary, interminable combat, those struggles were already far too real.
Veterans and concerned family members can call Veterans Affairs' Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 at any time to receive free, confidential support.
Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.