Military Creates Analytic Tool To Predict Army Suicides

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A new analytical tool developed by the U.S. Army out of a research study uses algorithms to identify which soldiers are most likely to commit suicide by looking for psychiatric problems, reports.

Researchers looked at 421 variables in total and found about 24 variables that were most important as predictors of suicide over the period of 2004 to 2009. The sample size included 40,820 U.S. soldiers, all of which had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems at one time or another.

The best predictors included soldiers with psychiatric disorders, illegal weapons possession and verbal assaults, as well as past suicide attempts. Hearing problems factored into the analysis, as did age range. Soldiers joining the military above the age of 27 experienced elevated risk, the explanation being that a tumultuous life likely delayed their ability to join.

“We saw quite a few people who killed themselves within six weeks of getting out of the hospital without any follow-up visit,” said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard University sociologist.

The annual Army suicide rate is 18.5 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, but the rate within the sample was 14 times greater.

For Kessler, the point of the study is to create better prevention programs designed to target soldiers at a high risk for attempted suicide. Previously, prevention programs targeted all soldiers in one fell swoop, but tailoring the program to specific subsets of the Army which are particularly vulnerable could help considerably in decreasing the suicide rate.

In the future, Kessler is preparing to embark on new research which looks at other vulnerable samples for risk of suicide, including soldiers on first deployment and psychiatric outpatients. The Army used to have the reputation of a much lower suicide rate than the general population of similar demographics because of screening measures for health and mental fitness, but since 2004, the rates have nearly converged.

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