Study Suggests Need for Increased Screening

California adolescents from military families are more likely than non-military youth to think about, plan and attempt suicide, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Southern California and Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Military-connected teens are also at a higher risk of requiring medical care because of a suicide attempt, according to the study, which appears in the journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The findings suggest a need for more screening for suicidality, especially among military-connected adolescents by physicians, mental health professionals and educators.

“Primary health care providers, mental health providers, schools and other community organizations should work to increase their awareness of the presence of military-connected youth and families that they serve,” the authors write. “Special consideration should be given for the potential of deployments, relocations and other adolescent stressors to impact the mental health of military-connected youth.”

The study, led by Tamika Gilreath, an assistant professor in the USC School of Social Work, is the first to explore the continuum of suicidality, including making a plan, attempting suicide, and attempts that result in medical attention amongst military- and non-military-connected youth.

Data for the study was drawn from the California Healthy Kids Survey, an ongoing survey of 5th-, 7th-, 9th- and 11th-graders, which is administered by WestEd for the California Department of Education. The survey asks questions about several health-related behaviors. This study focuses on a sample of 390,028 9th- and 11th-grade students in 1,029 schools who completed the core survey in 2012-2013, as well as 26,142 students in 261 schools that opted to administer a supplementary questionnaire that included questions about additional suicidal behaviors.

The results show that approximately 24 percent of military-connected youth reported seriously considering suicide compared to 18.1 percent of non-military-connected youth. Nearly 12 percent of military-connected youth reported attempting suicide, compared to 7.3 percent of non-military-connected youth. Military-connected youth were at 1.71 increased odds of a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment than their civilian counterparts.

This work extends the findings of prior studies that show military-connected youth may be at increased risk for negative mental health and behavior outcomes.

“As the nation moves to increase resources for the long-term care of psychological trauma and/or physical injury experienced by veterans and active-duty service persons, it is critical that the needs of their children are attended to as well,” Gilreath says. “Civilian schools and other community-based youth serving institutions should be aware of both veteran and military-connected youth that they serve and increase resources as needed.”

The co-authors of the study are Stephani L. Wrabel, Katherine S. Sullivan, Gordon P. Capp, and Ron A. Astor from USC, and Ilan Roziner and Rami Benbenishty from Bar Ilan University.

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