Objective: Several studies have investigated post-traumatic stress reactions and other psychosocial problems in former peacekeepers. The question has also been raised as to whether such veterans might be at increased risk of suicide. This study investigated the suicide mortality in Norwegian former peacekeepers.
Methods: Cause-specific mortality was identified in the population of Norwegian peacekeepers having participated in army missions in the years 1978-95. General population data were used for comparison. Standardized Mortality Ratios (SMRs) were calculated for different suicide methods and certain peacekeeping-related variables. Marital status was available for each year and controlled for by using separate suicide rates for unmarried, married and divorced.
Results: A moderately, but significantly, increased SMR of 1.4 for suicide was found among the former peacekeepers (95% confidence interval = 1.1-1.8). After adjusting for marital status, the SMR was reduced to insignificance (SMR = 1.1, 95% confidence interval = 0.9-1.4). There was a significant increase in suicide by means of firearms and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Conclusions: The increased risk of suicide in former peacekeepers was related to the peace-keepers' lower marriage rate compared to the general population. This finding may indicate that the personnel were characterized by certain vulnerability factors before entering peacekeeping service, resulting in a reduced ability to enter into and remain in stable love relations. However, it cannot be excluded that stress reactions following peacekeeping may have contributed to possible strains on interpersonal relationships. Preventative work should, thus, include improved personnel selection routines and preferably also psychosocial support for veterans and their families. The increased number of suicides by use of firearms indicates that gun control might be an important prevention measure in this group.