Predictors of suicidal ideation among active duty military personnel with posttraumatic stress disorder.

McLean, C. P., Zang, Y., Zandberg, L., Bryan, C. J., Gay, N., Yarvis, J. S., Foa, E. B., & the STRONG STAR Consortium.
Jan 15, 2017

Journal of Affective Disorders, 208, 392-398.

Given the alarming rate of military suicides, it is critical to identify the factors that increase risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among active duty military personnel.

This study examined a predictive model of suicidal ideation among 366 treatment-seeking active duty military personnel with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following deployments to or near Iraq or Afghanistan. Structural equation modeling was employed to examine the relative contribution of combat exposure, social support, PTSD severity, depressive symptoms, guilt, and trauma-related cognitions on suicidal ideation.

The final structural equation model had a highly satisfactory fit [
χ2(2) =2.023, p=.364; RMSEA =.006; CFI =1; GFI =.998]. PTSD severity had an indirect effect on suicidal ideation via trauma-related cognitions. Depression had a direct positive effect on suicidal ideation; it also had an indirect effect via trauma-related cognitions and interpersonal support. Among participants who had made a previous suicide attempt, only depression symptom severity was significantly linked to suicidal ideation.

Data are cross-sectional, precluding causal interpretations. Findings may only generalize to treatment seeking active duty military personnel with PTSD reporting no more than moderate suicidal ideation.

These findings suggest that depression and trauma-related cognitions, particularly negative thoughts about the self, play an important role in suicidal ideation among active duty military personnel with PTSD. Negative cognitions about the self and interpersonal support may be important targets for intervention to decrease suicidal ideation.

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