A study published in Military Psychology explored the relationship between romantic relationships, suicide, and self-harm in military members. Their findings indicate that for about 30% of suicidal soldiers in the study, their romantic relationship is either a reason to live, a reason to die, or fluctuates between both. Additionally, those that shared their relationship experienced problems and were also likely to have self-harmed.
(If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or follow this link to their online chat.)
Suicide never happens in a vacuum, and although identifying the specific causes post-suicide may continue to elude us, constructing a list of possible causes is valuable. Therapy that addresses as many potential causes of suicide and self-harm may successfully prevent future tragedy.
This study sought to identify how often romantic relationships were discussed when individuals complete measures of suicidal thoughts and self-harm. They looked to discover if relationships are more often reasons for living or reasons for dying. Finally, they were hoping to determine if there is a connection between romantic relationships and suicidal thoughts or self-harm.
The participants in this study were seventy-two soldiers being treated for suicide risk at a U.S. Army infantry post in the United States. These participants were active-duty, spoke fluid English, and scored high on the Scale for Suicide Ideation-Current (SSI-C). Scores on the SSI-C are intended to measure suicide ideation or how often someone thinks about suicide.
The participants also completed the Suicide Status Form (SSF). This form helps to identify the motivators or situational forces that drive suicidal thoughts or self-harm. The data collected from the SSF was analyzed. For example, the number of times participants referred to their romantic partner or relationships was counted. The SSF also asks individuals to make a list of five reasons to live and five reasons to die. These lists were also used to determine the impact of the relationship on suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Samantha Chalker and colleagues found that those soldiers who were at risk for suicide were likely to mention their relationship on measures of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, 76% of participants did so. Of that group, 22.6% shared that their romantic relationship was a motivator for living or a motivator to die or was sometimes both. Finally, 95% of participants who shared that they experienced relationship problems also had experience with self-harm somewhere over the course of their life.
A potential limitation is that the Suicide Status Form is validated for examining the causes of suicide but not relationship functioning. Consequently, the SSF questions about relationships may not be the type that is approved by the research community to collect data about how dysfunctional relationships are or are not. Additionally, the sample may only apply to military personnel and their families. Relationships when one partner is in the military can function very differently than the typical relationship.
The research team concludes with the following: ” Overall, the prevalence of romantic relationships on the SSF and the impact of romantic relationship problems can have on self-inflicted injuries highlights the importance of considering romantic partners within the suicide-focused assessment and treatment.”
The study, “The influences of romantic relationships in assessment of suicide risk in U.S. Army soldiers”, was authored by Samantha Chalker, Chandra Khalifian, Robert Milano, Jacqueline Dende, and David Jobes.