Teen Suicide Risk Higher in Families With a Lot of Military Deployments

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It seems that the U.S. military's awful suicide problem extends far beyond just the men and women who serve in uniform. Teens living in households where military family members are deployed overseas multiple times are more likely to think about committing suicide, according to a new study examining data from California secondary schools. The study, published Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, also found increased instances of a handful of other mental health issues in those families.

The link, according to the study, applies specifically to deployments — simply having an active duty family member did not result in increased rates of mental health issues. Researchers also found a surprisingly high baseline of reported mental health issues among students in families (even non-military families) without multiple deployments. As The Los Angeles Times notes, 29 percent of teens reported feeling sad or hopeless some time in the past year, and 22 percent of teens reported depression symptoms in the past month. 

Add one military deployment of a family member in the past decade, and that rate rises to 35 percent for sad and hopeless feelings in the past year, with 24 percent reporting depression symptoms in the past month. Multiple deployments raises those rates again, to 37 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Those changes are statistically significant. When asked whether they'd seriously thought about committing suicide in the past year, 18 percent of teens with no deployments in their family said they had. Twenty-three percent with a single family deployment said yes, along with 25 percent with multiple deployments. The difference between the lowest and highest rate is considered statistically significant. 

In recent years, the Department of Defense has tried to reduce the rate of suicides among active duty service members after what many termed an "epidemic." In 2012, there were more reported suicides than there were combat deaths, but that rate dropped by 22 percent this year, after a handful of new military programs were implemented to target the problem. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.