PTSD Symptoms and Suicide Risk in Veterans: Serial Indirect Effects Via Depression and Anger

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BACKGROUND: Suicide rates are higher in veterans compared to the general population, perhaps due to trauma exposure. Previous literature highlights depressive symptoms and anger as contributors to suicide risk. PTSD symptoms may indirectly affect suicide risk by increasing the severity of such cognitive-emotional factors. METHOD: A sample of community dwelling veterans (N=545) completed online surveys, including the PTSD Checklist-Military Version, Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised, Multidimensional Health Profile-Psychosocial Functioning, and Differential Emotions Scale -IV. Bivariate and serial mediation analyses were conducted to test for direct and indirect effects of PTSD symptoms on suicide risk. RESULTS: In bivariate analyses, PTSD symptoms, depression, anger, and internal hostility were positively related to suicide risk. In serial mediation analyses, there was a significant total effect of PTSD symptoms on suicide risk in both models. PTSD symptoms were also indirectly related to suicidal behavior via depression and internal hostility, and via internal hostility alone. Anger was not a significant mediator. LIMITATION: Our cross-sectional sample was predominantly White and male; prospective studies with diverse veterans are needed. DISCUSSION: Our findings may have implications for veteran suicide prevention. The effects of PTSD and depression on anger, particularly internal hostility, are related to suicide risk, suggesting a potential mechanism of action for the PTSD-suicide linkage. A multi-faceted therapeutic approach, targeting depression and internal hostility, via cognitive-behavioral techniques such as behavioral activation and cognitive restructuring, may reduce suicide risk in veterans who have experienced trauma.