Pre-deployment predictors of suicide attempt during and after combat deployment: Results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers

Deployment-related experiences might be risk factors for soldier suicides, in which case identification of vulnerable soldiers before deployment could inform preventive efforts. We investigated this possibility by using pre-deployment survey and administrative data in a sample of US Army soldiers to develop a risk model for suicide attempt (SA) during and shortly after deployment.

Data came from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers Pre-Post Deployment Survey (PPDS). Soldiers completed a baseline survey shortly before deploying to Afghanistan in 2011-2012. Survey measures were used to predict SAs, defined using administrative and subsequent survey data, through 30 months after deployment. Models were built using penalized regression and ensemble machine learning methods.

Significant pre-deployment risk factors were history of traumatic brain injury, 9 + mental health treatment visits in the 12 months before deployment, young age, female, previously married, and low relationship quality. Cross-validated AUC of the best penalized and ensemble models were .75-.77. 21.3-40.4% of SAs occurred among the 5-10% of soldiers with highest predicted risk and positive predictive value (PPV) among these high-risk soldiers was 4.4-5.7%.

SA can be predicted significantly from pre-deployment data, but intervention planning needs to take PPV into consideration.