We tested the aspects of social support, unit cohesion, and religiosity hypothesized to be protective factors for suicide among U.S. service members.
This case–control study compared U.S. Army soldiers who died by suicide while on active duty (n = 135) to controls of two types: those propensity score-matched on known sociodemographic risk factors (n = 128); and those controls who had thought about, but not died by, suicide in the past year (n = 108). Data included structured interviews of next of kin (NOK) and Army supervisors (SUP) for each case and control soldier. Logistic regression analyses were used to examine predictors of suicide.
Perceived social closeness and seeking help from others were associated with decreased odds of suicide, as reported by SUP (OR = 0.2 [95% CI = 0.1, 0.5]) and NOK (OR = 0.4 [95% CI = 0.2, 0.8]). Novel reports by SUP informants of high levels of unit cohesion/morale decreased odds of suicide (OR = 0.1 [95% CI = 0.0, 0.2]). Contrary to study hypotheses, no religious affiliation was associated with lower odds of suicide (OR = 0.3 [95% CI = 0.2, 0.6]).
Perceived social closeness and unit/group cohesion are associated with lower odds of suicide. These results point toward social intervention strategies as testable components of suicide prevention programs.