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Original Research

Prevalence, Correlates, and Treatment of Suicidal Behavior in US Military Veterans: Results From the 2019–2020 National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

Brandon Nichter, PhDa,*; Murray B. Stein, MD, MPHa,b; Sonya B. Norman, PhDa,c,d; Melanie L. Hill, PhDa,b; Elizabeth Straus, PhDa,b; Moira Haller, PhDa,b; and Robert H. Pietrzak, PhD, MPHe,f

Published: August 10, 2021


Objective: US military veterans have high rates of suicide relative to civilians. However, little is known about the prevalence and correlates of suicidal behaviors in the general US veteran population.

Methods: Data were from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, a representative survey of US veterans conducted in 2019–2020 (n = 4,069). Analyses (1) estimated the prevalence of current suicidal ideation, lifetime suicide plans, and lifetime suicide attempts; (2) identified associated sociodemographic, military, DSM-5 psychiatric, and other risk correlates; and (3) examined mental health treatment utilization among veterans with suicidal ideation, suicide plans, or suicide attempts.

Results: The prevalence of current suicidal ideation, lifetime suicide plans, and lifetime suicide attempts was 9.0%, 7.3%, and 3.9%, respectively. Suicidal behaviors were most prevalent among veterans aged 18–44 years, with 18.2%, 19.3%, and 11.1%, respectively, endorsing suicidal ideation, suicide plans, and suicide attempts. Major depressive disorder (MDD), age, posttraumatic stress disorder, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) emerged as the strongest correlates of suicidal ideation and suicide plans, while MDD, age, alcohol use disorder, and ACEs were the strongest correlates of suicide attempts. Only 35.5% of veterans with current suicidal ideation were engaged in mental health treatment, with veterans who used the US Veterans Administration (VA) as their primary source of health care more than twice as likely as VA non-users to be engaged in such treatment (54.7% vs 23.8%).

Conclusions: Suicidal behaviors are highly prevalent among US veterans, particularly among young veterans. Results suggest that nearly two-thirds of veterans with current suicidal ideation are not engaged in mental health treatment, signaling the need for enhanced suicide prevention and outreach efforts.

Volume: 82

Quick Links: Other Mental Disorders , Veteran

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