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California teens from military families at higher risk of suicidal behaviors, study finds

Researchers from USC and Israel urge increased screening of military-connected adolescents

California adolescents from military families are more likely than non-military youth to think about, plan and attempt suicide, according to a new study by researchers at USC and Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

Military-connected teens are also at a higher risk of requiring medical care because of a suicide attempt, according to the study, which appears in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researchers found that nearly 12 percent of military-connected youth reported attempting suicide, compared to 7.3 percent of non-military-connected youth. Approximately 24 percent of military-connected youth reported seriously considering suicide compared to 18.1 percent of civilian youth. Military connected youth were also more likely to attempt suicide requiring medical treatment than their civilian counterparts.

The findings suggest a need for more screening for suicidality — especially among military-connected adolescents — by physicians, mental health professionals and educators.

“Primary health care providers, mental health providers, schools and other community organizations should work to increase their awareness of the presence of military-connected youth and families that they serve,” the authors stated. “Special consideration should be given for the potential of deployments, relocations and other adolescent stressors to impact the mental health of military-connected youth.”

First study of its kind

The study, led by Tamika Gilreath, an assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, is the first to explore the continuum of suicidality, which includes making a plan, attempting suicide and attempts that result in medical attention among military and non-military connected youth.

This work extends the findings of prior studies that show military-connected youth may be at increased risk for negative mental health and behavior outcomes.

“As the nation moves to increase resources for the long-term care of psychological trauma and/or physical injury experienced by veterans and active-duty service persons, it is critical that the needs of their children are attended to as well,” Gilreath said. “Civilian schools and other community-based youth serving institutions should be aware of both veteran and military-connected youth that they serve and increase resources as needed.”

Data for the study was drawn from the California Healthy Kids Survey, an ongoing survey of fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th-graders that is administered by WestEd for the California Department of Education. The survey asks questions about several health-related behaviors. This study focuses on a sample of 390,028 students in ninth and 11th grade at 1,029 schools who completed the core survey in 2012-13, as well as 26,142 students in 261 schools who opted to administer a supplementary questionnaire that included questions about additional suicidal behaviors.

Co-authors of the study are Stephani Wrabel, Katherine Sullivan, Gordon Capp and Ron Avi Astor from USC, and Ilan Roziner and Rami Benbenishty from Bar-Ilan University.

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California teens from military families at higher risk of suicidal behaviors, study finds

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