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Brain Injuries Potentially Linked to Suicide Among Military Personnel

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Just the other day, I saw a commercial about military personnel who have lost a limb while in combat and the struggles that they face as they adjust to prostheses. However, one overlooked area for military personnel is the rate of mental health issues that go unrecognized and unaddressed. Partially this is attributable to the overwhelming refusal and even confusion over what to do about mental health problems created by the atrocities of war. But the fact is that suicide is a major problem in the military: the annual rate of military personnel taking their own lives has doubled to about 20 in 100,000, or 324 suicides in the Army in the last year.

I came across an interesting article today that offered a speculation for the high rate of suicide among our military personnel, multiple concussions. It is true that roadside bombs have caused thousands of troops' mild traumatic brain injuries. Several studies are beginning to suggest that these MBIs are at least partially to blame for the high rate of suicide. One pertinent article controlled for the other important factors linked to suicide among military personnel, primarily PTSD and depression, and found that military personnel in Iraq who suffered multiple MBIs were far more likely to experience suicidal thoughts compared to those who experienced one brain injury or none.

Although the new study can't make a definitive link between MBIs and suicide, mild brain injuries are shown to impair problem-solving skills and the ability to be social. Researchers believe that these deficits could lead someone facing stress to consider suicide compared to those who aren't impaired in these areas. Another interesting possibility is the trait of impulsiveness, which can make some individuals more prone to suicide. However, troops that are injured by roadside bombs could also be more impulsive to begin with, since they are placing themselves in a potentially deadly situation. Overall, it is clear that the researchers have more work to do to disentangle the various psychological factors from the physical injuries that troops sustain. However, what is clear is that 20% of troops will be injured by a roadside bomb and suffer an MBI, making this type of research timely and crucial.