Pre-Enlistment Mental Disorders and Suicidality among New US Army Soldiers

Two new studies suggest that while individuals enrolling in the armed forces do not share the exact psychological profile as socio-demographically comparable civilians, they are more similar than previously thought.

The first study found that new soldiers and matched civilians are equally likely to have experienced at least one major episode of mental illness in their lifetime (38.7 percent of new soldiers; 36.5 percent of civilians) but that some mental disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and conduct disorder) are more common among new soldiers than civilians. What’s more, new soldiers are more likely than civilians to have experienced a combination of three or more disorders, or comorbidity, prior to enlisting (11.3 percent vs. 6.5 percent).

A second study focused on suicide, finding that new soldiers had pre-enlistment rates of suicide thoughts and plans at rates roughly the same as matched civilians. However, rates of pre-enlistment suicidality are higher among soldiers than civilians later in the Army career, implying that Army experiences might lead to chronicity of suicidality.

Both studies are the result of a survey of 38,507 new soldiers reporting for Basic Combat Training in 2011-2012 that was carried out as part of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS).

Population of focus: Individuals enrolling in the armed forces

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Date: 2015

Journal: Depression and Anxiety