Wartime Killing May Raise Veterans' Thoughts of Suicide
Impact of deadly combat on mental health receives too little attention,
Source: San Fransisco VA Medical Center.
MONDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- The experience of killing in war is strongly
linked with suicidal thoughts, according to a study of U.S. veterans of the Vietnam
Researchers analyzed data from a survey of a nationally representative sample of
Vietnam War veterans and found that those with more killing experiences were twice
as likely to have suicidal thoughts as those with fewer or no experiences of
The experiences of killing included enemy combatants, prisoners, civilians in
general, or women, children or the elderly.
The association between killing and suicidal thoughts remained even after adjusting
for variables such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use
disorders and combat exposure.
The study, recently published online in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was led
by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of
California, San Francisco.
"The VA has a lot of very good mental health programs, including programs targeting
suicide prevention. Our goal is to make those programs even stronger," lead author
Shira Maguen, a clinical psychologist at the VA medical center and an assistant
clinical professor of psychiatry at the university, said in a medical center news
"We want clinicians and suicide prevention coordinators to be aware that in
analyzing a veteran's risk of suicide, killing in combat is an additional factor
that they may or may not be aware of," she added.
Currently, the mental health impact of killing is not formally evaluated as part of
VA or Department of Defense mental health treatments, nor is it typically taken into
consideration when assessing a veteran's risk of suicide, Maguen noted.
"We know from our previous research how hard it is to talk about killing," she
said. "It's important that we as care providers have these conversations with
veterans in a supportive, therapeutic environment so that they will feel
comfortable talking about their experiences."
The American Psychiatric Association has more about military mental health.
-- Robert Preidt