Suicidal Thoughts in Army Vets 'Under the Radar,' Says Specialist

By Karin Abu-Middain

Release Date: February 6, 2009

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UB researcher John Violanti will study suicidal thoughts in returning soldiers.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researcher John Violanti, Ph.D., a specialist in suicide among police officers, is preparing to conduct a study on suicide risk among returning veterans. The U.S. Army yesterday reported a "stunning spike" in the number of soldiers taking their own lives.

Violanti currently is testing a computer-based psychological "task" which measures how quickly persons associate feelings of self-harm, as a way of detecting "under the radar" suicidal thought.

"I feel that military personnel will not readily admit suicidal thoughts," Violanti says. "This new test gets to real feelings at a subconscious level. It is called IAT (Implicit Association Testing) and was developed at Harvard.

"Suicide among returning veterans is a big problem," says Violanti. "On their psychological evaluation when they return there is only one question on suicide – "Are You Depressed?" Who is going to answer that?"

Violanti is a Vietnam Vet and former member of the New York State Police. As a research associate professor in the UB School of Public Health and Health Profession, he has studied suicide among police officers and the effects of policing on officers' health for 16 years.

According to the Army's report, the number of soldiers who committed suicide in January could be as high as 24, which would be the highest monthly total since the Army began collecting data on suicides. January's suicide total may be more than the number of soldiers killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during the month.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities. The School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and School of Public Health and Health Professions are the five schools that constitute UB's Academic Health Center.