U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Affective Disorders 133 (2011) 398–405; doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.05.011


Background: Over the last decade, suicide rates in the U.S. military have steadily increased, resulting in a call for suicide-related research with military populations. The present project aimed to describe and evaluate the communications (i.e., verbally and in suicide notes) of 13 suicide risk factors in the suicide death investigation files of 98 active duty U.S. Air Force (USAF) members.

Methods: Two-hundred thirty-seven suicide death investigation files were coded. Ninety-eight decedents left suicide notes and were included in the current analyses. Descriptive statistics were computed to evaluate the types of risk factors most commonly communicated prior to and at the time of death as well as the medium for their communication. Specifically, verbal and note communications were compared to evaluate which medium decedents most often used to communicate risk factors. Also, the frequency that interpersonal compared to intrapsychic risk factors were communicated was evaluated.

Results: Hopelessness (35.7% of cases) and perceived burdensomeness (31.6% of cases) were the risk factors most often communicated in suicide notes but not verbally. Thwarted belongingness (29.6% of cases) was the risk factor most often communicated verbally and in the suicide note. Further, evaluated risk factors were more frequently communicated in suicide notes than verbally. Finally, interpersonal risk factors were more often communicated than intrapsychic risk factors.

Limitations: The validity of the data relies on interviews of decedents' acquaintances and various medical/military records.

Conclusions: Our findings support emphasizing certain risk factors over others in USAF suicide prevention efforts. Further, interpersonal risk factors appeared to be more salient than intrapsychic risk factors in the minds of decedents.