SAN DIEGO — Despite all of the focus on preventing suicides in those who have served in the military, a significant proportion of veterans with suicidal ideation do not take advantage of available mental health treatment, according to a new study.

A report in the Journal of Psychiatric Research noted, however, that few population-based studies have examined factors that might play into whether veterans seek help if they are contemplating suicide.

To remedy that, a study was led by researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System. Also participating were the National Center for PTSD in White River Junction, VT, the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in San Diego, the National Center for PTSD at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven and Yale University School of Medicine.

The study team used data from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study which involved 3,157 participants, with information collected in 2011. Researchers conducted multivariable analyses to identify predisposing (e.g., age), enabling (e.g., social support) and need (e.g., psychiatric history) characteristics, as well as perceptions of stigma and barriers to care associated with current mental healthcare utilization.

Of the 7.3% of veterans endorsed current suicidal ideation, 36.1% were engaged in current mental health treatment, according to the analysis. Most associated with treatment utilization were younger age, female sex, current depression, lifetime suicide attempt(s) and number of lifetime traumas and medical problems. On the other hand, mistrust of mental health providers and fear of treatment harming one’s reputation were associated with lower likelihood of treatment engagement, over and above the effects of these predisposing, enabling and need characteristics.

“More than 3 of 5 U.S. veterans endorsing current suicidal ideation are not engaged in mental health treatment,” the authors explained. “Results underscore the importance of multi-modal suicide prevention and treatment engagement efforts that target need-based factors, and perceptions of stigma and negative beliefs about mental healthcare in this population.”


  1. Nichter B, Hill M, Norman S, Haller M, Pietrzak RH. Mental health treatment utilization among U.S. military veterans with suicidal ideation: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 29]. J Psychiatr Res. 2020;130:61-67. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.07.004