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Study: Student vets have high suicide risk

Aug. 4, 2011 - 12:47PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 4, 2011 - 12:47PM  |  
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A new study shows that college students who have served in the military are particularly vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Veterans in college are six times more likely to have attempted suicide than college students who have never served, and nearly half the student veteran population reported having suicidal thoughts, according to a study released Thursday by researchers with the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.

A survey of 525 student veterans, 98 percent of whom had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, with an average age of 26, showed that 46 percent contemplated suicide, 20 percent had planned a suicide and 7.7 percent had tried to kill themselves.

In contrast, 6 percent of the general college student population reported considering suicide and 1.3 percent said they had tried, according to American College Health Association data published in 2010.

Researchers decided to examine the issue of suicide among student veterans because they received reports from campus veterans groups that vets were feeling isolated and disconnected from fellow students as a result of their worldly experiences, said University of Utah professor M. David Rudd, the study's lead author.

"We had heard a number of times about the difficulties veterans faced integrating with other students and we decided to look further at it," Rudd said. "There had not been, surprisingly, a national survey of student veterans."

The survey also found that 82 percent of respondents said they had been diagnosed or suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rudd said the results underscore the need for student veterans to continue seeking care for PTSD and for colleges to be prepared to assist and treat this special group of students.

The study, "Student Veterans: A National Survey Exploring Psychological Symptoms and Suicide Risk," was conducted in partnership with the Student Veterans of America, a coalition of college veterans groups in 48 states. Its findings were presented at the American Psychological Association Convention in Washington.

Researchers said they plan to further explore the issue of social isolation and support for student veterans on campus.

"There are going to be increasing numbers of veterans ending up on college campuses in the coming years and we need to be aware of their issues and we need to help," Rudd said.

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