The risk of suicide among U.S. military veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is more than double that of other vets, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed records of more than 1.4 million vets who received care from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) between 2005 and 2015.
They compared severity of the traumatic brain injury with diagnoses of psychiatric and other medical conditions, along with method of death in suicide cases.
After adjusting for depression and other mental health diagnoses, the researchers found that veterans with moderate or severe TBI were 2.45 times more likely to die by suicide than those without TBI. The study only found an association and not a cause-and-effect link, however.
During the study period, the suicide rate was 86 per 100,000 person years for those with TBI and 37 per 100,000 person years for others. A person year is a formula that accounts for the number of people in a study and how long they were followed.
Of vets studied who died by suicide, 68% used guns. The rate was 78% among vets with moderate or severe TBI, according to the University of Colorado-led study.
"Together, these findings underscore the importance of understanding veterans' lifetime history of TBI to prevent future deaths by suicide, and support the implementation of screening initiatives for lifetime history of TBI among all individuals utilizing the VHA," the authors said in a university news release.
Lisa Brenner, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, led the study.
Her team said the findings also show the need for more research regarding gun safety among those with moderate to severe TBI.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on traumatic brain injury.