Astor part of team publishing new study on rate of suicide attempts of military children

California adolescents from military families are more likely than nonmilitary youth to think about, plan and attempt suicide, according to a new study by researchers at the USC School of Social Work and Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Ron Avi Astor

Dr. Ron Avi Astor

“Our research team, led by Tamika D. Gilreath, has been looking at this issue for some time now,” says Ron Avi Astor, the Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health, with joint appointments at the USC School of Social Work and USC Rossier. “We have been quite shocked at the high levels of suicide ideation for students in California schools. This is the first study we know that explores the thoughts, attempts and methods that high school students report.”

The study was published Thursday by the journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The authors urge more screening, especially among military-connected adolescents, by physicians, mental health professionals and educators.

“Primary health care providers, mental health providers, schools and other community organizations should work to increase their awareness of the presence of military-connected youth and families that they serve,” the authors write. “Special consideration should be given for the potential of deployments, relocations, and other adolescent stressors to impact the mental health of military-connected youth.”

The study is the first to explore the continuum of suicidality, including making a plan, attempting suicide and attempts that result in medical attention among military and nonmilitary connected youth.

Children of military families feel the impact of long deployments or parents who have returned from service with physical and mental health problems.

“They’re bearing the burden of our war on terrorism,” said Gilreath to the Los Angeles Times in a report on the findings.

Astor says schools should play a major role in prevention given that close to a fifth of all high school students have seriously thought of suicide in the past year.

“This is a public health issue and an educational issue that needs to be addressed,” he says. “For students from military families the problem is even greater. Clearly we need a system-wide strategy to help schools, families and communities deal with this life threatening issue.”