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Multiple Mild TBIs Greatly Increase Risk of Suicide

Soldiers who suffer more than one mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) face a significantly higher risk of suicide, according to a new study published in JAMA by researchers from the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. The researchers led by Craig J. Bryan, Ph.D. found that the risk for suicidal behaviors and thoughts increased not only in the short term, but during the soldier’s entire life.

During a six-month period in 2009, 161 patients who received a suspected brain injury while on duty in Iraq were referred to an outpatient TBI clinic at a combat support hospital. The researchers found that one in five (21.7 percent) who had sustained more than one TBI reported suicidal ideation, described as thoughts about or preoccupation with suicide. For those who had received one TBI, 6.9 percent reported having suicidal thoughts. Zero percent of those with no TBIs reported suicidal thoughts.

In evaluating the lifetime risk, researchers asked patients if they had ever experienced suicidal thoughts and behaviors up to the point they were assessed. The increases were similar for suicidal thoughts during the previous year rather than at any time, according to the researchers. They found that 12 percent of those with multiple TBIs had entertained suicidal ideas during the past year, compared with 3.4 percent with one TBI, and 0 percent for no TBIs.