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Primary Health Care Utilization Prior to Suicide: A Retrospective Case-Control Study Among Active-Duty Military Personnel

J Clin Psychiatry 2014;75(8):e817–e823

Objective: About 45% of civilians who died by suicide had contact with a doctor within 1 month of death. Thus, educating primary care physicians (PCP) to detect and mitigate depression is an important suicide-prevention strategy. However, the PCP consulting rate before suicide has not been examined in a military population. We investigated the utilization of primary health care and mental health services by active-duty military personnel suicide cases prior to death in comparison to matched military controls.

Method: All suicides (N = 170) were extracted from a cohort of all active-duty Israeli military male personnel between 2002 and 2012. Applying a retrospective, nested case-control design, we compared primary care services utilization by suicide cases with demographic and occupationally matched military controls (N = 500).

Results: Whereas 38.3% of suicide cases contacted a PCP within the last month before death, only 27.6% of suicide cases contacted a mental health specialist during their entire service time. The PCP contact rate within 1 month before death or index day did not differ between suicide cases and military controls (38.3% vs 33.8%, χ21 = 1.05, P = .3). More suicide cases contacted a mental health specialist within service time than did military controls (27.6% vs 13.6%, χ21 = 10.85, P = .001).

Conclusions: Even though PCP contact rate by military personnel who died by suicide is slightly lower than that reported for civilians who died by suicide prior to their death, it is higher than mental health specialist contact rate and higher than that by age-matched civilians who died by suicide. These results imply that PCPs education is a viable approach to suicide prevention in a military setting.