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Research Summary / February 2021

Identifying release-related precursors to suicide among Canadian Veterans between 1976 and 2012

Suicide prevention is a priority of the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada. Ongoing research into related factors and trends inform their joint Suicide Prevention Strategy.

What is this Research About?

This paper examines known factors at the time of release from the Canadian military among Veterans who later died by suicide. The findings discussed in the paper are based on the 2018 Veteran Suicide Mortality Study (VSMS), which reported on suicide mortality among Canadian Veterans over the period 1976 to 2012.

What did the Researchers Do?

The VSMS links military data from Department of National Defence to mortality records at Statistics Canada. The researchers used various statistical tests using information known at release such as age, sex and rank to identify risk factors for suicide.

What did the Researchers Find?

Of the 220,734 Canadian Veterans in the study:

  • 89% were male
  • < 1% died by suicide over the 37-year study period
  • male and female Veterans exhibited different suicide patterns

Male Veterans:

  • rank at release and age at release influenced their risk of dying by suicide
  • those who released before age 25 years had the highest risk of suicide death. This risk decreased as they aged. By 20 years after release, the suicide rate among male Veterans reduced to the same levels as other Canadian males
  • males who released at the rank of Junior Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) were 1.9 times more likely to die by suicide than those who released as Junior Officers. This risk peaked around four years after release, then decreased to a lower risk that remained stable 10 to 30 years after release.

Female Veterans:

  • age at release was not a risk factor for dying by suicide but rank at release was
  • those who released at NCM rank:
    • were three times more likely to die by suicide than those who released as Officers
    • suicide risk was lower in the early years after release and peaked around 20 years post-release

Suicide prevention strategies, interventions and treatments need to take into account the different risk profiles of male and female Veterans and the vulnerability of Veterans who release at NCM rank

Source

VanTil LD, Simkus K , Rolland-Harris E, Heber A. Identifying release-related precursors to suicide among Canadian Veterans between 1976 and 2012. Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health; 2021.

https://jmvfh.utpjournals.press/doi/10.3138/jmvfh-2020-0011

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