Physical and sexual assault increases suicide risk in military personnel

Assault

Military personnel experience increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions if they were the victims of physical or violent sexual assault as adults, according to results of a new study by researchers at the University of Utah.

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 physical assault are at increased risk of health problems—including suicide—the majority of that work has focused on victims sexually assaulted as children. Much less is known about the connections in a military context.

Consequently, this new study looked at the experiences of two groups of adults—active military personnel and young people not in active military service—and then it assessed the potential impact of various kinds of interpersonal violence on suicide risk in each.

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

The study was conducted by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.

The goal of the study was to investigate potential links between various types of physical and sexual assault 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.

Results showed that different types of assault are associated with suicidal actions or behaviors in military personnel from those among undergraduate students. The results persist even while controlling for potentially confounding factors like age, gender, relationship status and emotional distress.

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