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Physical, Sexual Assault May Raise Soldiers' Suicide Risk

TUESDAY, Jan. 22 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. military personnel who were the victims of sexual or physical assault as adults are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts or actions, according to a new study.

College students, on the other hand, were more likely to think about or commit suicide if they were sexually assaulted as children or adults.

"Suicide is a growing concern in the military, as is the issue of interpersonal assault," study author Craig Bryan, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah, said in a university news release.

"Understanding how different kinds of assaults can increase risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors in military personnel is a major step toward better care for those men and women in service to our country," said Bryan, who is associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the university.

The researchers had 273 active-duty U.S. Air Force personnel with an average age of about 26 and 309 undergraduate college students with an average age of about 20 complete surveys anonymously. Besides being somewhat older, the military participants were more likely to be married.

The results, published Jan. 18 in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, showed that different types of assault were associated with suicidal thinking and actions among the military personnel, compared with the college students.

For those in the military, being a victim of rape, robbery or violent physical assault as an adult had a stronger association with suicide attempts than other types of assault. Physical abuse and battering as an adult were more strongly associated with suicidal thoughts.

Among the students, sexual assaults in childhood were more strongly connected with both suicidal thoughts and attempts than other types of violence, according to the study.

Also, a history of multiple assaults increased the odds of suicide in both groups, the study found.

"Taken together, these data are important because they point practitioners to specific life experiences that can help identify and intervene for those at risk of suicide before the unthinkable happens," Bryan said.

More information

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance discusses suicide prevention.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Jan. 18, 2013

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