As the U.S. has waged two wars at once, suicide within the military has soared during both conflicts. (image credit Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty)
McLean, VA (written by Gregg Zoroya/USA Today) -- When researchers asked 72 soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., why they tried to kill themselves, out of the 33 reasons they had to choose from, all of the soldiers included one in particular - a desire to end intense emotional distress.
"This really is the first study that provides scientific data saying that the top reason ... these guys are trying to kill themselves is because they have this intense psychological suffering and pain," said Craig Bryan, co-author of the study by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah that will be published in the coming months.
Suicide within the military has soared since 2005 as the military has waged two wars at once, and this year may set a record with troops committing suicide at the rate of one per day, according to Pentagon figures.
But military scientists say that finally, after years of congressional funding and the launch of randomized studies of a subject rarely researched, a few validated results are beginning to surface.
The findings by the Pentagon-funded study offer perhaps some guidance on how to attack the problem, said Army Col. Carl Castro, who is coordinating $50 million in research into suicide prevention and treatment.
"The core of the issue is that it's not that people who attempt suicide ... want to harm themselves as much as they want the pain they're currently in to stop, and they don't see any other way out," Castro said.
The study also found that the soldiers often listed many reasons - an average of 10 each - for suicide, illustrating the complexity of the problem, Bryan said. Other common reasons included the urge to end chronic sadness, a means of escaping people or a way to express desperation.
Meanwhile, a new Pentagon analysis released Tuesday shows that suicide rates in the military were highest among people divorced or separated - with a rate of 19 per 100,000 - 24% higher than troops who are single.
In addition, mental health rates have risen 65% in the military since 2000, with 936,000 troops diagnosed with at least one mental health issue in that time, according to the new data.
The Fort Carson findings support the premise behind new therapies underway which break with traditional approaches toward dealing with suicide that treat underlying illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, Castro said.
Instead, these new therapies first teach soldiers skills at quelling emotional pain or "treating the suicide," Castro said.
The new therapies are being tested in a small number of Defense Department studies. Preliminary results are showing a drop in suicide attempts, said David Rudd, who is leading the research and is co-founder of the National Center for Veterans' Studies.