Research examines link between traumatic brain injuries, soldier suicides

Posted at 10:11 PM, Jun 01, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY – A new study indicates people in the military who suffer more than one traumatic brain injury have a higher risk of suicide.

Assistant psychology professor Craig Bryan, University of Utah, was the lead author of the research performed by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.

They studied 161 military personnel stationed in Iraq who had a possible traumatic brain injury and found their risk for suicidal thoughts increased significantly over the short-term as well as throughout the individual’s lifetime.

Bryan said the problem is complicated by the fact some soldiers are unwilling to face up to the full danger of the situation.

"Most will minimize the problems and the symptoms they're having because they don't want to be removed from duty,” he said. “They want to stay and continue their mission."

Bryan said soldiers who do report symptoms after an injury usually see improvement within 24 to 72 hours of the incident.

“The recovery is quite rapid for concussions as long as the person sidelines for a while,” he said. “They take some time off. They rest, sleep, don't do physically strenuous activity, and they really let their brain rest."

Bryan said soldiers struggle with feelings of isolation.

"They feel like they're not understood and that their not truly valued and appreciated, and we know, based on the research that we're doing now, that that isolation, that sense of 'not fitting in' with the larger society is actually a much stronger predictor of suicidal thoughts and behaviors than combat exposures,” he said.

Bryan said soldiers who have experienced a traumatic brain injury and are having suicidal thoughts need to know that there is hope for the future.

“I want those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries, no matter how many, to realize that things are going to be OK, and that there's hope, and that there's services available, and that the treatment works,” he said.

For more information about the research, click here.