Sergeant William Davidson had been struggling with mental health problems since his deployment to Afghanistan. When he didn’t attend at least one of his Connecticut National Guard drill weekends, the Guard declared him AWOL (absent without leave) and discharged him with a “bad paper” separation. Four months after his discharge, Davidson, 24, fatally shot himself. Davidson, who had two younger sisters, is one among thousands of veterans who die by suicide each year. Despite national goals to prevent veteran suicides, they occur at disproportionately higher rates than in the general population.
Marriage and struggles with religion and spirituality significantly raise the suicide risk for veterans, according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Transitioning back into a domestic home environment may prove exceedingly difficult,” resulting in an increased suicide risk for veterans who are married or living with a partner, the study states. In addition, suicide risk rises substantially for veterans undergoing strains in their religious and spiritual lives, the study shows. Such strains include beliefs expressed by veterans that they have been abandoned by God, that God doesn’t love them or is punishing them. On the other hand, no effect on suicide risk was seen when veterans reported positive religious and spiritual connections.
The incidence of suicide in nearly all age groups has increased by 24 percent since 1999—and by 200 percent among girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Theories behind such astounding unprecedented increases, reported recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vary. Some research says that among older Americans, the recent recession may have played a part, though the correlation is not a simple one. As for why so many more young girls are killing themselves, the answers there, too, are complicated. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 showed the greatest rise in suicide of any age group since 1999, from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.5 per 100,000 in 2014, according to last month’s CDC report.