Per-Olof Michel(1), Siri Thoresen(2), Jitender Sareen(3), Shay-Lee Belik(3) and Lars Mehlum(2)
(1)Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; (2)University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway; (3)University of Manitoba, Manitoba, Canada
Suicide in the Military. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2009, 210 pages.
Peacekeeping refers to a military intervention in a conflict area authorized by the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The first UN peacekeeping mission was established in 1948 and more than 60 UN peacekeeping operations have been established since then. Many soldiers from a variety of countries have been deployed on UN peacekeeping missions and over 2,400 of them have lost their lives while serving on such missions. The main objectives of peacekeeping operations are to prevent the recurrence of hostilities, to support peaceful interactions and to provide humanitarian aid. This would later be followed by efforts to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. The stressors associated with peacekeeping are important risk factors for later posttraumatic stress reactions and other mental health problems. Research indicates that several of the predictive factors for general mental health problems in other military and civilian populations are applicable to peacekeepers.
Although there are many studies investigating mental health problems in former peacekeepers, just a few studies have investigated suicidal behavior in this group. These studies do not support an overall increased risk of suicide as a consequence of peacekeeping duty per see. However, the majority of these studies suggest that service stress and exposure to trauma during peacekeeping duty is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, which in turn may increase the risk for suicide. In addition, exposure to other stressors, such as sexual and other interpersonal traumatic experiences and repatriation, may be related to suicidal behavior in peacekeepers. Suicide prevention in peacekeepers should focus on improved personnel selection, training and preparation, with special focus on leadership. It is essential that commanders and service providers increase their attention in detecting potentially suicidal soldiers. There are still some areas where our knowledge is limited. Specifically, the role of personality, previous mental health problems, service stress, social support or negative life events either prior to or following peacekeeping remains unclear. There is also limited knowledge from peacekeeping missions about how potential service-related risk and protective factors, such as unit cohesion, leader support, general stress level, and repatriation rate, might impact on mental health and suicide. Future studies should therefore investigate factors not only at the individual level but also at the group or unit level. Such future multilevel studies could provide much needed information about how individual and system factors interact as predictors of later mental health and suicide in peacekeeping soldiers.