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Insecure attachment styles are associated with retrospectively reported suicide attempts (SAs). It is not known if attachment styles are prospectively associated with medically documented SAs.
A representative sample of US Army soldiers entering service (n = 21 772) was surveyed and followed via administrative records for their first 48 months of service. Attachment style (secure, preoccupied, fearful, dismissing) was assessed at baseline. Administrative medical records identified SAs. Discrete-time survival analysis examined associations of attachment style with future SA during service, adjusting for time in service, socio-demographics, service-related variables, and mental health diagnosis (MH-Dx). We examined whether associations of attachment style with SA differed based on sex and MH-Dx.
In total, 253 respondents attempted suicide. Endorsed attachment styles included secure (46.8%), preoccupied (9.1%), fearful (15.7%), and dismissing (19.2%). Examined separately, insecure attachment styles were associated with increased odds of SA: preoccupied [OR 2.5 (95% CI 1.7–3.4)], fearful [OR 1.6 (95% CI 1.1–2.3)], dismissing [OR 1.8 (95% CI 1.3–2.6)]. Examining attachment styles simultaneously along with other covariates, preoccupied [OR 1.9 (95% CI 1.4–2.7)] and dismissing [OR 1.7 (95% CI 1.2–2.4)] remained significant. The dismissing attachment and MH-Dx interaction was significant. In stratified analyses, dismissing attachment was associated with SA only among soldiers without MH-Dx. Other interactions were non-significant. Soldiers endorsing any insecure attachment style had elevated SA risk across the first 48 months in service, particularly during the first 12 months.
Insecure attachment styles, particularly preoccupied and dismissing, are associated with increased future SA risk among soldiers. Elevated risk is most substantial during first year of service but persists through the first 48 months. Dismissing attachment may indicate risk specifically among soldiers not identified by the mental healthcare system.
Emotion reactivity and risk behaviors (ERRB) are transdiagnostic dimensions associated with suicide attempt (SA). ERRB patterns may identify individuals at increased risk of future SAs.
A representative sample of US Army soldiers entering basic combat training (n = 21 772) was surveyed and followed via administrative records for their first 48 months of service. Latent profile analysis of baseline survey items assessing ERRB dimensions, including emotion reactivity, impulsivity, and risk-taking behaviors, identified distinct response patterns (classes). SAs were identified using administrative medical records. A discrete-time survival framework was used to examine associations of ERRB classes with subsequent SA during the first 48 months of service, adjusting for time in service, socio-demographic and service-related variables, and mental health diagnosis (MH-Dx). We examined whether associations of ERRB classes with SA differed by year of service and for soldiers with and without a MH-Dx.
Of 21 772 respondents (86.2% male, 61.8% White non-Hispanic), 253 made a SA. Four ERRB classes were identified: ‘Indirect Harming’ (8.9% of soldiers), ‘Impulsive’ (19.3%), ‘Risk-Taking’ (16.3%), and ‘Low ERRB’ (55.6%). Compared to Low ERRB, Impulsive [OR 1.8 (95% CI 1.3–2.4)] and Risk-Taking [OR 1.6 (95% CI 1.1–2.2)] had higher odds of SA after adjusting for covariates. The ERRB class and MH-Dx interaction was non-significant. Within each class, SA risk varied across service time.
SA risk within the four identified ERRB classes varied across service time. Impulsive and Risk-Taking soldiers had increased risk of future SA. MH-Dx did not modify these associations, which may therefore help identify risk in those not yet receiving mental healthcare.
Problematic anger is frequently reported by soldiers who have deployed to combat zones. However, evidence is lacking with respect to how anger changes over a deployment cycle, and which factors prospectively influence change in anger among combat-deployed soldiers.
Reports of problematic anger were obtained from 7298 US Army soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. A series of mixed-effects growth models estimated linear trajectories of anger over a period of 1–2 months before deployment to 9 months post-deployment, and evaluated the effects of pre-deployment factors (prior deployments and perceived resilience) on average levels and growth of problematic anger.
A model with random intercepts and slopes provided the best fit, indicating heterogeneity in soldiers' levels and trajectories of anger. First-time deployers reported the lowest anger overall, but the most growth in anger over time. Soldiers with multiple prior deployments displayed the highest anger overall, which remained relatively stable over time. Higher pre-deployment resilience was associated with lower reports of anger, but its protective effect diminished over time. First- and second-time deployers reporting low resilience displayed different anger trajectories (stable v. decreasing, respectively).
Change in anger from pre- to post-deployment varies based on pre-deployment factors. The observed differences in anger trajectories suggest that efforts to detect and reduce problematic anger should be tailored for first-time v. repeat deployers. Ongoing screening is needed even for soldiers reporting high resilience before deployment, as the protective effect of pre-deployment resilience on anger erodes over time.
Unit cohesion may protect service member mental health by mitigating effects of combat exposure; however, questions remain about the origins of potential stress-buffering effects. We examined buffering effects associated with two forms of unit cohesion (peer-oriented horizontal cohesion and subordinate-leader vertical cohesion) defined as either individual-level or aggregated unit-level variables.
Longitudinal survey data from US Army soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 were analyzed using mixed-effects regression. Models evaluated individual- and unit-level interaction effects of combat exposure and cohesion during deployment on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicidal ideation reported at 3 months post-deployment (model n's = 6684 to 6826). Given the small effective sample size (k = 89), the significance of unit-level interactions was evaluated at a 90% confidence level.
At the individual-level, buffering effects of horizontal cohesion were found for PTSD symptoms [B = −0.11, 95% CI (−0.18 to −0.04), p < 0.01] and depressive symptoms [B = −0.06, 95% CI (−0.10 to −0.01), p < 0.05]; while a buffering effect of vertical cohesion was observed for PTSD symptoms only [B = −0.03, 95% CI (−0.06 to −0.0001), p < 0.05]. At the unit-level, buffering effects of horizontal (but not vertical) cohesion were observed for PTSD symptoms [B = −0.91, 90% CI (−1.70 to −0.11), p = 0.06], depressive symptoms [B = −0.83, 90% CI (−1.24 to −0.41), p < 0.01], and suicidal ideation [B = −0.32, 90% CI (−0.62 to −0.01), p = 0.08].
Policies and interventions that enhance horizontal cohesion may protect combat-exposed units against post-deployment mental health problems. Efforts to support individual soldiers who report low levels of horizontal or vertical cohesion may also yield mental health benefits.
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