UH Hilo study suggests societal factors bigger driver in military suicides than combat, trauma

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U.S. Army soldier (Rodnae Productions/ Pexels)

A study conducted by the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo challenges the belief that combat trauma and war-related causes are the primary drivers of military suicides, finding that societal factors appear to be the major cause for both military and civilian suicides.

The study, “A Historical Comparison of U.S. Army & U.S. Civilian Suicide Rates, 1900–2020,” was published in Psychiatry Research in March 2023.

The research revealed that historically, war did not increase suicide rates in U.S. Army personnel or civilians. U.S. Army and similarly aged civilian male suicide rates have converged since 1900.


The study suggests that societal and cultural factors likely play a larger role in military suicides than the military-specific factors such as combat trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study used cross-sectional data from U.S. military health and personnel readiness reports, the National Vital Statistics System and academic journal articles.

Its findings also suggest that suicide rates among U.S. males, including U.S. Army service members and civilians, have increased substantially since the start of the Global War on Terror.


The study emphasizes it is important to understand military suicides in the larger societal context in order to be effective in prevention efforts.

Jeffrey Allen Smith, co-author and professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and chair of the history department, said it may be counter-productive to focus narrowly on military-related suicides apart from the larger societal context.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo study is a follow-up to the largest historical study to date of suicide in the U.S. Army, which was published in December 2019 and also challenged the assumption that combat is the primary driver of suicide in active duty U.S. Army forces.

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