Differentiating U.S. military veterans who think about suicide from those who attempt suicide: A population-based study

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2021 Sep-Oct;72:117-123. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2021.08.007. Epub 2021 Aug 14.


Objective: Several vulnerability factors for suicidal behavior in U.S. veterans have been identified. However, little is known about factors that differentiate veterans who contemplate suicide from those who attempt suicide. This study examined sociodemographic and clinical characteristics that distinguish veterans who think about suicide from those who attempt suicide.

Method: Data were analyzed from the 2019-2020 National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, which surveyed a population-based sample of 4069 veterans. Analyses estimated the lifetime prevalence of suicide ideation (SI) and suicide attempts (SA); and examined differences between veterans with a history of attempt(s), and SI without a history of attempt(s).

Results: A total 25.9% of U.S. veterans reported lifetime SI and 3.9% reported a SA. Several factors distinguished veterans with a history of SA from those with SI only: the strongest were younger age (odds ratio [OR] = 0.97, 95% CI = 0.95-0.98), nonsuicidal self-injury (OR = 1.81, 95% CI = 1.11-3.03), adverse childhood experiences (OR = 1.14; 95% CI = 1.06-1.23), alcohol use disorder (OR = 1.99; 95% CI = 1.28-3.12), lower household income (OR = 0.62; 95% CI = 0.40-0.95), and physical disability (OR = 1.69; 95% CI = 1.07-2.70).

Conclusions: Although a quarter of U.S. veterans contemplate suicide in their lifetimes, the majority do not attempt suicide. Specific sociodemographic and clinical features may differentiate veterans who contemplate versus attempt suicide.

Keywords: ACES; Ideation to action; NSSI; Suicidal ideation; Suicide attempts; Veterans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / epidemiology
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide, Attempted
  • Veterans*