Veterans, Brain Injuries & Suicide Risk

A recent study funded by Veteran Affairs’ Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) found that post-9/11 veterans with a history of multiple traumatic brain injuries are at a greater risk of considering suicide. This is compared with veterans who had no brain injuries. The study was published in the journal Psychological Services.

The study looked at interviews with more than 800 veterans who served in combat roles in Afghanistan and Iraq. About half of the veterans had experienced one traumatic brain injury (TBI). Nearly 20 percent of those veterans with multiple TBIs had recent suicidal ideation. This is compared with only 11 percent of veterans who had only one TBI and 9 percent of those with no history of TBIs.

The veterans with at least one TBI also reported poorer sleep quality and higher rates of depression. The researchers relied on the Beck Scale to determine which veterans were at risk, and a licensed health professional conducted a suicide risk assessment for these participants.
The study was led by Dr. Robert Shura, a neuropsychologist at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in North Carolina.

Dr. Robert Shura, a neuropsychologist at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in North Carolina, led the study. He stressed the importance of identifying characteristics of veterans likely to think about suicide—which is a prime moment for intervention.

Dr. Shura also indicated that this study is just one piece in a complex puzzle. And while there’s no direct explanation for why TBI history can increase suicidal thoughts, it could be that chronic pain, sleep issues, and trouble adjusting to life at home after traumatic events can all contribute. More research is needed on the subject to help doctors provide the best care for veterans returning from deployment.

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