The Significance of Insomnia and Depressive Disorders in Veterans

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Research has shown that U.S. military personnel are more likely to commit suicide compared to civilians.

This could be down to the stressful nature of their job, the greater access to firearms, and/or demographics. Research has shown that these risk factors are found predominately among young men in the military.

Fortunately, military suicide prevention is becoming more of a priority with greater efforts being made to provide mental health care to at-risk military personnel.

However, perhaps due to the persistent stigma associated with seeking mental health care, a number of service members still fail to seek the care they need.

This makes it even more important to understand suicide risk factors — and it appears that insomnia may be a predictor of suicide risk in the U.S. military, a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found.

The study’s design

The study, published in August 2016, set out to identify the suicide risk factors associated with mental health service use.

It involved 2,596 Army recruiters and recruiter candidates with an average age of 30, although only 2596 with available medical data, were included in the analyses. Two-thirds were white, 15 percent were black, 13 percent were Hispanic, and the remainder were Asian, Native Hawaiian, and American Indian/Alaska Native.

Researchers collected data on demographics, number of mental health visits, major depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.

Participants also completed the following questionnaires and surveys:

  • Acquired Capability for Suicide Scale

  • Brief Agitation Measure

  • Depressive Symptom Inventory – Suicidality Subscale

  • Interpersonal Needs Questionnaire

  • Insomnia Severity Index

  • Suicide Cognitions Scale

The study’s findings

Researchers found that the following symptoms predicted the number of mental health visits:

  • Greater agitation

  • More severe insomnia

  • Lower suicide-specific hopelessness

Of all the suicide-related symptoms, only insomnia was significantly associated with prior and future major depressive episodes.** Insomnia as an opportunity**

The researchers noted that, "individuals with greater suicide related hopelessness - and thus - likely greater suicide risk" may in turn be less likely to seek out professional care compared to those with lower-ranked feelings of suicide specific hopelessness.

However, insomnia and agitation appeared to be the biggest factors influencing a soldier's decision to seek mental health treatment.

We can use this knowledge to ensure we assess those who seek help for insomnia for other psychiatric symptoms that may not get reported.

Furthermore, we can make insomnia treatment options more widely available within the military. Techniques such as behavioral therapy can not only treat insomnia, but also improve symptoms of depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finally, perhaps military personnel would benefit from routine screening for insomnia symptoms in order to identify those who may benefit from mental health treatment before it’s too late.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.