Dividing veterans into three groups by age -- 18 to 44 years, 45 to 64 years, and 65 or over -- Zivin's team found that the youngest group was at higher risk of suicide. Veterans aged 18 to 44 committed suicide at a rate of about 95 suicides per every 100,00 person years, versus about 78 per 100,000 person years in the group aged 45 to 64, and 90 per 100,000 for those 65 or older.
That findings are at odds with suicide trends among the general population, where younger depressed people are typically at lower risk than older individuals, the researchers said.
Zivin said the finding for veterans "wasn't what we expected, and our data doesn't allow us to figure out why that happened." She also said the finding should serve as a heads-up to doctors that a veteran's youth does not make him or her any less of a risk for suicide -- and might even add to the risk.
Dr. Marcia Valenstein, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, added, "Clinicians have to be aware that they can't simply rely on the predictors of suicide in the general population -- in this depression treatment population, it is the younger individuals who are most at risk rather than the older individuals."
Another surprise finding was that a diagnosis of PTSD actually helped protect veterans against suicide. Depressed veterans with PTSD had a suicide rate of about 68 per 100,000 person years, the study found, while the rate was much higher in veterans without the disorder -- almost 91 suicides per 100,000 person years.
That finding was also a bit of a puzzle, Zivin said. She speculated that PTSD may encourage affected depressed veterans to more readily seek out psychiatric care.
Another expert agreed.
"The VA system is now much more accepting of looking out for, and hearing about, PTS
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