…The most recent Pentagondata show that a slight majority — 52% — of troops who have committed suicide while on active duty were never assigned to Afghanistan or Iraq.
The numbers, from the years 2008 to 2011, upend the popular belief that a large increase in suicides over the last decade stems from the psychological toll of combat and repeated deployments to war.
To researchers trying to unravel the causes of the rise, the statistics suggest that the mental health and life circumstances of new recruits are at least as important — and possibly more so — than the pressures of being in the military. It is clear that some enter with a predisposition to suicide and that stressors other than war are pushing them over the edge, experts said.
“A lot of the risk for suicide in the military is the stuff they bring with them,” said Dr. Murray Stein, a psychiatrist at UC San Diego who is studying suicide in the Army.
Among the unanswered questions: Did the type of people volunteering for service change after 9/11, when going to war — and dying — went from being an abstract possibility to a significant risk? One theory is that more recruits have backgrounds and psychological histories that make them prone to suicide.
“Wartime is almost certainly going to be different than peacetime,” said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard sociologist and suicide authority.
The Times interviewed relatives and friends of five service members who committed suicide without having gone to Afghanistan or Iraq. All were men who married young. In four cases, their relationships were over or crumbling.
They struggled with the direction of their lives and joined the military in search of purpose or meaning, their relatives and friends said.
And they concealed their psychological problems. Four of the men longed to go to war, and the disappointment of not being sent only heightened a sense of desperation.