Increased risk of attempted suicide in Australian veterans is associated with total and permanent incapacitation, unemployment and posttraumatic stress disorder severity
Kerr, K., Romaniuk, M., McLeay, S., Khoo, A., Dent, M. T., & Boshen, M. (2018). Increased risk of attempted suicide in Australian veterans is associated with total and permanent incapacitation, unemployment and posttraumatic stress disorder severity. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52, 552-560.
Background: Military veterans have higher rates of suicidality and completed suicides compared to the general population. Previous research has demonstrated suicidal behaviour is higher in US combat veterans who are younger, suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and score lower on measures of health. However, research on predictors of suicide for Australian veterans is limited. Aim: The aim of this study was to identify significant demographic and psychological differences between veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder who had attempted suicide and those with posttraumatic stress disorder who had not, as well as determine predictors of suicide attempts within an Australian cohort.
Method: A retrospective analysis was conducted on 229 ex-service personnel diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder who had attended a Military Service Trauma Recovery Day Program as outpatients at Toowong Private Hospital from 2007 to 2014. Patients completed a battery of mental health self-report questionnaires assessing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol use, anger, depression, anxiety and quality of life. Demographic information and self-reported history of suicide attempts were also recorded.
Results: Results indicated the average age was significantly lower, and the rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, anger, anxiety and depression symptoms were significantly higher in those veterans with history of a suicide attempt. Multivariate logistic regression analyses indicated posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity, unemployment or total and permanent incapacity pension status significantly predicted suicide attempt history.
Conclusion: Among a cohort of Australian veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, psychopathology severity, unemployment and total and permanent incapacity status are significantly associated with suicidality. This study highlights the importance of early identification of posttraumatic stress disorder and psychopathology, therapeutic and social engagement, and prioritisation of tangible employment options or meaningful and goal-directed activities for veterans deemed unable to work.