Spouse and Family Functioning Before and After a Marine’s Suicide: Comparisons to Deaths by Accident and in Combat

December, 2017

This paper explores the impact on family functioning of the suicide of a family member who has served in the military.


The impact of service member suicides on families is not well understood. Civilian studies have demonstrated that family survivors of suicide deaths experience complicated grief, feel guilt and shame, and often do not receive sufficient social support. In this exploratory study, spouse survivors of Marines who died by suicide (N = 17), accident (N = 19), and in combat (N = 34) retrospectively reported on their immediate pre- and postmortem and current personal and family functioning. Nonparametric analyses revealed that several between-group differences existed. Observation of the means suggested that the spouses and families of Marines who died by suicide exhibited significantly poorer pre- and postmortem functioning compared with those whose spouses died in combat. Specific challenges included low family cohesion, high family conflict, perceived stigma, and shame. There were no differences in current spouse or family functioning, and there was weak evidence for posttraumatic growth among surviving spouses of those dying by suicide. These results should be considered preliminary and interpreted with caution given several methodological challenges.

Full Reference

Aronson KR, Kyler SJ, Morgan NR, et al. Spouse and family functioning before and after a Marine’s suicide: Comparisons to deaths by accident and in combat. Military Psychology 2017; 29: 294-306.

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