JOURNAL ARTICLE

Prevalence and correlates of suicidal behavior among new soldiers in the U.S. Army: results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS)

Robert J Ursano, Steven G Heeringa, Murray B Stein, Sonia Jain, Rema Raman, Xiaoying Sun, Wai Tat Chiu, Lisa J Colpe, Carol S Fullerton, Stephen E Gilman, Irving Hwang, James A Naifeh, Matthew K Nock, Anthony J Rosellini, Nancy A Sampson, Michael Schoenbaum, Alan M Zaslavsky, Ronald C Kessler
Depression and Anxiety 2015, 32 (1): 3-12
25338964

BACKGROUND: The prevalence of suicide among U.S. Army soldiers has risen dramatically in recent years. Prior studies suggest that most soldiers with suicidal behaviors (i.e., ideation, plans, and attempts) had first onsets prior to enlistment. However, those data are based on retrospective self-reports of soldiers later in their Army careers. Unbiased examination of this issue requires investigation of suicidality among new soldiers.

METHOD: The New Soldier Study (NSS) of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) used fully structured self-administered measures to estimate preenlistment histories of suicide ideation, plans, and attempts among new soldiers reporting for Basic Combat Training in 2011-2012. Survival models examined sociodemographic correlates of each suicidal outcome.

RESULTS: Lifetime prevalence estimates of preenlistment suicide ideation, plans, and attempts were 14.1, 2.3, and 1.9%, respectively. Most reported onsets of suicide plans and attempts (73.3-81.5%) occurred within the first year after onset of ideation. Odds of these lifetime suicidal behaviors among new soldiers were positively, but weakly associated with being female, unmarried, religion other than Protestant or Catholic, and a race/ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, or Hispanic.

CONCLUSIONS: Lifetime prevalence estimates of suicidal behaviors among new soldiers are consistent with retrospective reports of preenlistment prevalence obtained from soldiers later in their Army careers. Given that prior suicidal behaviors are among the strongest predictors of later suicides, consideration should be given to developing methods of obtaining valid reports of preenlistment suicidality from new soldiers to facilitate targeting of preventive interventions.

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