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Suicide and PTSD

There is a relationship between trauma, PTSD, and suicide. However, the risk for suicide with these factors is not clear. Among Veterans who served in combat, how often combat trauma happened and how intense it was may affect suicide risk. There are 2 effective talk therapies for PTSD that have been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts. They are prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).

How common is suicide?

No matter how rarely suicide happens, it is always very tragic. It is hard to say exactly how many suicides happen because:

  • Often suicides are not reported.

  • It can be hard to know whether or not a person meant to die by suicide. For a death to be recorded as suicide, medical examiners must be able to say that the deceased meant to die.

  • The way deaths are recorded, in general, has changed over time.

Overall, men are more likely to die by suicide than women. The difference in suicide rates between men and women is also true among Veterans.

Trauma and suicide risk

Going through a trauma may increase your suicide risk. For example, childhood abuse and sexual trauma may increase a person’s suicide risk. Among Veterans, some studies have found that combat trauma is related to suicide, while other studies have not. In this research, combat trauma survivors who were wounded more than once or put in the hospital for a wound had the highest suicide risk. This could mean that suicide risk in Veterans may be affected by how intense and how often the combat trauma was.

Link between PTSD and suicide risk

Why is suicide risk higher in trauma survivors? It may be because of the symptoms of PTSD. Or it may be due to other mental health problems, like depression. Studies show that suicide risk is higher if you have PTSD. If you have PTSD, suicide risk can be linked to painful trauma memories, anger, and poor control of impulses. Also, suicide risk is higher for those with PTSD who have certain styles of coping with stress, such as not expressing feelings.

In Veterans with PTSD, the strongest link to both suicide attempts and thinking about suicide is guilt-related to combat. Many Veterans have very troubling thoughts and great guilt about actions taken during times of war. These thoughts can often overwhelm Veterans and make it hard for them to deal with the strong feelings.

PTSD treatment

Treatment for PTSD can include the following:

  • Prolonged exposure (PE)

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

These therapies have been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts as well as PTSD symptoms. Having a good relationship with a mental healthcare provider can help someone with PTSD make the best treatment decisions.

If you have PTSD and are in mental health treatment, your suicide risk will be regularly checked. If your mental healthcare provider thinks your risk for suicide is high, they will make appropriate treatment decisions to help keep you safe. If the immediate risk for suicide is not high and suicide risk can be managed safely on an outpatient basis, PTSD treatment may be suggested.

Do You Have Thoughts About Suicide?

If you or a loved one has thoughts about death or suicide, call 911 or the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) and press 1, or use other emergency services. Or you can chat with a trained counselor online at

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
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