HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Suicide in Scottish military veterans: a 30-year retrospective cohort study (Scotland)

Article

This paper explores the risk of suicide in veterans in Scotland, irrespective of length of service or exposure to conflict, in comparison with people having no record of military service.

Abstract

Although reassuring data on suicide risk in UK veterans of the 1982 Falklands conflict and 1991 Gulf conflict have been published, there have been few studies on long-term overall suicide risk in UK veterans. To examine the risk of suicide in a broad population-based cohort of veterans in Scotland, irrespect ive of length of service or exposure to conflict, in comparison with people having no record of military service. A retrospective 30-year cohort study of 56205 veterans born 1945–85 and 172741 matched non-veterans, using Cox proportional hazard models to compare the risk of suicide and fatal self-harm overall, by sex, birth cohort, length of service and year of recruitment. There were 267 (0.48%) suicides in the veterans compared with 918 (0.53%) in non-veterans. The difference was not statistically significant overall [adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 0.99; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.86–1.13]. The incidence was lower in younger veterans and higher in veterans aged over 40. Early service leavers were at non-significantly increased risk (adjusted HR 1.13; 95% CI 0.91–1.40) but only in the older age groups. Women veterans had a significantly higher risk of suicide than non-veteran women (adjusted HR 2.44; 95% CI 1.32–4.51, P < 0.01) and comparable risk to veteran men. Methods of suicide did not differ significantly between veterans and non-veterans, for either sex. The Scottish Veterans Health Study adds to the emerging body of evidence that there is no overall difference in long-term risk of suicide between veterans and non-veterans in the UK. However, female veterans merit further study.

Full Reference

B. P. Bergman, D. F. Mackay, D. J. Smith, J. P. Pell, 2017. Suicide in Scottish military veterans: a 30-year retrospective cohort study. Occupational Medicine, 67(5), pp. 350–355. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqx047