Suicide attempts among activated soldiers in the U.S. Army reserve components

BMC Psychiatry. 2019 Jan 18;19(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s12888-018-1978-2.


Background: Although the majority of active duty U.S. Army soldiers are full-time personnel in the Active Component (AC), a substantial minority of soldiers on active duty are in the Reserve Components (RCs). These "citizen-soldiers" (Army National Guard and Army Reserve) represent a force available for rapid activation in times of national need. RC soldiers experience many of the same stressors as AC soldiers as well as stressors that are unique to their intermittent service. Despite the important role of RC soldiers, the vast majority of military mental health research focuses on AC soldiers. One important goal of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) is to address this gap. Here we examine predictors of suicide attempts among activated RC soldiers.

Methods: This longitudinal, retrospective cohort study used individual-level person-month records from Army and Department of Defense administrative data systems to examine socio-demographic, service-related, and mental health predictors of medically documented suicide attempts among activated RC soldiers during 2004-2009. Data from all 1103 activated RC suicide attempters and an equal-probability sample of 69,867 control person-months were analyzed using a discrete-time survival framework.

Results: Enlisted soldiers comprised 84.3% of activated RC soldiers and accounted for 95.7% of all activated RC suicide attempts (overall rate = 108/100,000 person-years, more than four times the rate among officers). Multivariable predictors of enlisted RC suicide attempts included being female, entering Army service at age ≥ 25, current age < 30, non-Hispanic white, less than high school education, currently married, having 1-2 years of service, being previously deployed (vs. currently deployed), and history of mental health diagnosis (particularly when documented in the previous month). Predictors among RC officers (overall rate = 26/100,000 person-years) included being female and receiving a mental health diagnosis in the previous month. Discrete-time hazard models showed suicide attempt risk among enlisted soldiers was inversely associated with time in service.

Conclusions: Risk factors for suicide attempt in the RCs were similar to those previously observed in the AC, highlighting the importance of research and prevention focused on RC enlisted soldiers in the early phases of Army service and those with a recent mental health diagnosis.

Keywords: Army National Guard; Army reserve; Military; Risk factors; Suicide attempt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health* / trends
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / trends
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult