Exploring the association between exposure to suicide and suicide risk among military service members and veterans

J Affect Disord. 2017 Jan 1:207:327-335. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.09.043. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Background: Past research suggests that suicide has a profound impact on surviving family members and friends; yet, little is known about experiences with suicide bereavement among military populations. This study aimed to characterize experiences with suicide exposure and their associations with lifetime and current psychiatric symptoms among military service members and veterans.

Methods: A sample of 1753 United States military service members and veterans completed self-report questionnaires assessing experiences with suicide exposure, lifetime history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, current suicidal symptoms, and perceived likelihood of making a future suicide attempt.

Results: The majority of participants (57.3%) reported knowing someone who had died by suicide, and of these individuals, most (53.1%) reported having lost a friend to suicide. Chi-square tests, one-way ANOVAs, and logistic regression analyses revealed that those who reported knowing a suicide decedent were more likely to report more severe current suicidal symptoms and a history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors compared to those who did not know a suicide decedent. Hierarchical linear regression analyses indicated that greater self-reported interpersonal closeness to a suicide decedent predicted greater self-reported likelihood of a future suicide attempt, even after controlling for current suicidal symptoms and prior suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Limitations: This study utilized cross-sectional data, and information regarding degree of exposure to suicide was not collected.

Conclusions: Military personnel and veterans who have been bereaved by suicide may themselves be at elevated risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Additional work is needed to delineate the relationship between these experiences.

Keywords: Bereavement; Military service member; Suicide; Survivor; Veteran.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*