Participation Mediates the Relationship Between Postconcussive Symptoms and Suicidal Ideation Among Veterans

Am J Occup Ther. 2022 May 1;76(3):7603205020. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2022.048561.


Importance: Veterans with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and associated symptoms are at risk for suicide. Postconcussive symptoms (PCS) may heighten risk for suicidal thoughts by limiting veterans' participation.

Objective: To investigate whether participation mediates the relationship between PCS and suicidal ideation.

Design: Cross-sectional, exploratory design. Structural equation models were used to investigate whether participation mediated the relationship between PCS and suicidal ideation.

Setting: Community.

Participants: Veterans with mTBI (N = 145).

Outcomes and measures: The Ohio State University TBI Identification Method was used to establish mTBI diagnosis. We identified latent variables for PCS and participation using the Neurobehavioral Symptom Inventory and select domains of the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36, respectively. We used the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation to measure the presence of suicidal ideation.

Results: Participation mediated the relationship between PCS and the presence of suicidal ideation (odds ratio [OR] = 1.09, p = .011). More severe PCS were associated with lesser participation (β = -.86, p < .001); greater participation was associated with lower odds of suicidal ideation (OR = 0.92, p = .007).

Conclusions and relevance: PCS may heighten risk for suicidal thoughts among veterans by limiting successful participation, a primary target of occupational therapy intervention. Thus, the results suggest that occupational therapy practitioners can play a substantial role in suicide prevention services for veterans with mTBI. Preventive services could mitigate suicide risk among veterans with mTBI by enabling sustained engagement in meaningful and health-promoting activity (e.g., reasons for living) and targeting PCS. What This Article Adds: Researchers have proposed that occupational therapy practitioners can help prevent veteran suicide by supporting their engagement in meaningful, health-promoting activity and by targeting suicide risk factors within their scope of practice. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to offer empirical support for such proposed suicide prevention efforts. Although additional research is needed, these results are promising and highlight a distinct role for occupational therapy in suicide prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Ohio
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Veterans*