Suicide is the second biggest cause of death in the U.S. military with estimates ranging from a rate of nine to 15 deaths per 100,000 service members. The commonest type of traumatic death suffered during military training is suicide and male veterans are twice as likely to kill themselves as non veterans. However, military suicide rates are lower in times of peace than civilian ones. So what is is about combat that makes people more likely to commit suicide? Psychologists now think that three factors have to be in place before people kill themselves: a feeling that one does not belong with other people; a feeling that one is a burden to others or society and the capability of overcoming the fear and pain associated with suicide. A team of researchers led by Craig J. Bryan from the University of Texas looked into these factors in a study of 522 servicemen who had fought in Iraq. They found that a greater experience of combat was linked to an increased capability for killing oneself above and beyond depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, previous thoughts of suicide and other common risk factors. However, combat experiences did not lead to reduced feelings of belonging or a feeling of being a burden on other people. The study suggests that it is the brutalising effect of combat which gives people the capability of killing themselves.
Bryan, Craig J. ... [et al] - Combat experience and the acquired capability for suicide Journal of Clinical Psychology October 2010, 66(10), 1044-1056