Which coping strategies protect US combat veterans against suicide?
Marie-Christine Nizzi1, Franchesca Ramirez1, Matthew Nock1; 1Harvard University, Department of Psychology
Objectives: Suicide rates in the U.S. Army have climbed substantially over the last decade, surpassing for the first time age- and sex-adjusted civilian rate in 2013. The most recent prevalence estimates for lifetime suicide ideation are 12.7% among men and 20.1% among women, and for lifetime suicide attempts are 2.5% and 5.1%. Soldiers are exposed to unique stressors and the ways in which they respond to stress critical for their mental health. Mounting evidence is linking avoidant coping with depression and anxiety. Yet no study has investigated the relationship between specific coping strategies and the risk of suicide. Methods: In this study, we surveyed 75 Army veterans, using the Brief COPE (Carver, 1997) to investigate how different coping strategies relate to suicide thoughts and behaviors (STBs), depression and PTSD. Results: In line with previous literature, we parsed coping strategies into active vs avoidant coping. As expected, we found that veterans who engage in more active forms of coping reported fewer symptoms of depression, PTSD, and STBs compared with those who engage in avoidant forms of coping (r = -0.3). In particular, humor was protective against suicide whereas self-blame was correlated with higher suicide risk (r=0.4). Conclusions: Active coping is associated with reduced risk of suicide. Practice implications: Training in active coping strategies could be integrated in clinical care to reduce suicide risk of Army veterans.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions