Research suggests that individuals who know someone who died by suicide are at increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and recent suicidal thoughts. Studies have not yet investigated the association of suicide exposure with suicide attempts, however, especially among high-risk subgroups of military personnel such as the National Guard.
An anonymous online survey was completed by 971 military personnel assigned to the National Guard in Utah and Idaho. Weighted analyses were conducted to ensure demographic matching to the full population. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression was used to test the association of suicide exposure with psychiatric condition, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts.
65.4% of National Guard personnel reported knowing someone who had died by suicide. On average, participants knew 3.0 (SD=2.0) suicide decedents. Total number of known suicide decedents was associated with significantly increased risk for PTSD (OR=1.18, p=.008), depression (OR=1.19, p=.003), and suicide ideation (OR=2.48, p<.001), but not suicide attempt (OR=1.34, p=.472). Perceived closeness to the suicide decedent was associated with significantly increased risk for PTSD (OR=1.54, p<.001), depression (OR=1.36, p=.031), suicide ideation (OR=1.24, p=.039), and suicide attempt (OR=1.69, p=.026). The majority of participants who experienced suicidal thoughts and attempts after the suicide exposure had a previous history of suicide ideation.
Suicide exposure is common among National Guard personnel, and is associated with increased risk for PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Risk is highest for those personnel who know multiple suicide decedents and were closer to the suicide decedent.