Post 9-11 vets who are married face higher suicide rate, UConn/VA study finds

A new survey of post 9-11 vets found that those who are married or in a live-in relationship are, as a group, at greater risk for suicide than those who've never been married. Older female vets who are married are at the greatest risk, according to the survey from the University of Connecticut and Department of Veterans Affairs.

The survey asked 772 Iraq and Afghanistan vets about their experiences transitioning back to civilian life to determine whether there are gender differences in how male and female military combat veterans readjust. The survey found variations in suicide risk based on age, income, marital status and spiritual and religious beliefs.

Dr. Crystal Park, a psychology professor at UConn and one of the co-investigators of the study, said researchers speculate in the study that the increased risk of suicide among married vets could be because they had more trouble reintegrating than they anticipated. The transition back to a domestic environment can produce added stress for some vets who already are struggling internally.

Women made up more than 40 percent of the respondents. Researchers specifically were targeting women to participate in the study, given the influx of women in the armed forces. The increased risk for older female vets may be due to the increased stresses and responsibilities that they have, Park said.

While the study got more attention for its findings regarding suicide rates among married versus single vets, researchers primarily were interested in seeing if there was a link between religion and spirituality and suicidal behavior, given the increased interest in moral injury and how difficult it can be for veterans to reconcile some of the things they saw or did while in combat, Park said. The study was titled "Religious Coping and Suicide Risk in a Sample of Recently Returned Veterans."

Researchers found that veterans' positive attitudes about religion and spirituality — thinking about how their life is part of a larger spiritual force or looking to God for guidance — didn't significantly reduce their risk for suicide.

Vets who had negative attitudes about religion and spirituality, such as feeling like God had abandoned them, were at a higher risk for suicide, even when accounting for depression.

"We wanted to see whether, when we took away the effects of depression, if spiritual struggle is still a problem. And it is," Park said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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