November 1st, 2010
06:33 PM ET

Bipolar, substance abuse linked to suicide risk in vets

Bipolar disorder and substance abuse are the most common psychiatric disorders linked to suicide in veterans, according to a new study.

The study looked at the medical records of more than 7,000 vets who took their own lives, and found that male veterans with bipolar disorder were about 3-times more likely to commit suicide; while female bipolar vets had a sixfold increase.

"Approximately 25 percent of veterans are diagnosed with at least one psychiatric condition," said Mark Ilger, a psychologist at the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the lead study author. "We wanted to see who might be at the greatest risk of committing suicide."

Substance abuse, which includes both drug and alcohol use, correlated with a twofold increase in suicide risk for men, and a sixfold increase in women.

"Substance use can lead to depression, can lead to interpersonal problems, and work problems, and can make life difficulties pile up for people," Ilger said.

He went on to say that researchers had a difficult time explaining why psychiatric conditions seemed to affect women more than men as it relates to suicide risk.

"We don't know for sure why, but our thoughts are that women may be less comfortable discussing their psychiatric problems in the VA," he said, "So, for something to come onto the clinicians' radar in female patients, it may have to be a little more severe."

Interestingly, the report shows post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, had the weakest association with suicide risk of all the psychiatric disorders studied, including depression and anxiety.

In recent years, Ilger says, the VA system has instituted several new screening programs to assess vets" psychiatric risk, and this new information may help clinicians better identify service members at the greatest risk for committing suicide.

"In terms of interventions, the VA is doing more regular mental health screening, mandatory screening for depression, PTSD and substance abuse disorders. Knowing better what the risk factors are, and rolling out screening measures is an important step."

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. MT

    Why do so many other studies identify PTSD as the leading cause of suicide among veterans? If the findings of this study were valid, then these suicidal veterans don"t qualify for VA disability benefits. Since you work for the VA, it sounds like your research is biased. I guess intentional misdiagnoses of veterans as "bipolar" is the new strategy since the prolific personality misdiagnoses was brought to light? I bet your results cannot be replicated by anyone other than another biased VA or military researcher looking for a promotion.

    November 1, 2010 at 20:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FireHades

      these vets should really just go for it since the momentary release would feel transformative.

      November 3, 2010 at 02:16 | Report abuse |
  2. First to lay, last to stay.

    Give them an education and a healthy normal life like most Americans SHOULD have by now and watch these problems fade, also watch participation in these half arsed conflicts fade. So sick of saying it, but growing up in the shadow of Vietnam, forget it, we learned, the rest apparently missed that subject in school. Or, take a look for yourself, they simply don't teach it, how convenient. Most of us have learned by 2010, nevermind the 50 years before that. the rest of you are going through this because you refuse to listen to anyone but yourself. Your on your own unfortunately. No one cares. Chin up, and move along. Start learning and listening, stop hating. Watch these problems go away. Dealt with it myself, just because your dealing with it from a different consequence doesn't mean jack. You ARE NOT special, get over it, and you will get better. By the way Mt, its the cool thing to do these days, veteran or not, to be given a randomly picked disease using a blindfold and list and the typical drug list that follows, good luck, stay healthy.

    November 2, 2010 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Margaret S, WA

    You can't link those things because they are not causing each other definitively. Bipolar is one thing, substance abuse is another, and suicide risk is yet another! They do not cause each other. There are plenty of reasons to be suicidal, plenty of reasons to use and abuse "substances" (who came up with that word?), and plenty of different causes for Bipolar disorder.

    Specious reasoning and faulty logic are the problem here.
    Mark Ilger seems to be puffing up a bunch of hooey. We don't need this kind of nonsense in the health care industry. Ever.

    November 2, 2010 at 07:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim

    Bro, it's Mark Ilgen, not Ilger.


    November 2, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. AB


    November 7, 2010 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply

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