Study Tracks Suicide Rate In V.A. Care

Study Tracks Suicide Rate In V.A. Care
October 31st, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Study Tracks Suicide Rate In V.A. Care

Study Tracks Suicide Rate In V.A. Care
New York Times
October 31, 2007 By Benedict Carey
Veterans receiving treatment for depression are no more likely to take their own lives than are civilian patients, a large Department of Veterans Affairs study published yesterday found.
The study, a joint effort with the University of Michigan that included detailed records from more than 800,000 veterans, is the largest and most comprehensive in this group of patients and the first to include troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It found 1,683 suicides in all, a rate of less than one-quarter of 1 percent — far lower than some past estimates. But experts cautioned against applying the findings too widely, because most former servicemen and women with mental problems do not seek treatment in the Veterans Affairs system.
In contrast to most studies of nonveterans, which have found that the risk of suicide generally goes up with age, the rate was highest among those ages 18 to 44, dropped about 20 percent for those ages 45 to 64 and then rose again after that.
Paradoxically, those who had post-traumatic stress symptoms as well as depression were at significantly lower risk of suicide than those without trauma symptoms, the study found. Veterans being treated for both conditions were 20 percent less likely to commit suicide than those who were treated for depression alone. People suffering from two conditions are usually considered to be at higher risk for harm than those with one.
“It may be that those being treated for P.T.S.D. have more access to services, more psychotherapy visits, just more mental health services in general,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Marcia Valenstein of the University of Michigan and the veterans agency.
Dr. Valenstein added that the veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress were more likely than the others to receive income supplements from the government to cover the disability, which could also help account for the difference.
The Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments have been investigating suicide risk closely since a study of combat troops in 2003 found high rates of suicide. In another recent study, Oregon researchers found that veterans were about twice as likely to kill themselves as were people who had not served in the military.
The new analysis, published online in The American Journal of Public Health, focused only on those veterans who sought treatment for depression in the government’s health care system, and suggested that they might be different in some ways from others in treatment.
“This is an important study and adds a lot to what we know about this population,” said Mark Kaplan, a professor of community health at Portland State University in Oregon.
In the new study, a research team evaluated records for 807,694 veterans being treated in the V.A. system from April 1999 to September 2004. The group included men and women who had served in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war, Iraq and Afghanistan, though the researchers did not do separate analysis for each.
The study did not evaluate the methods used in the suicides. The Oregon study, led by Dr. Kaplan and published last summer, found that more than 80 percent of veterans’ suicides were committed with a gun. The rate in nonveterans was 55 percent.

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