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A suicide attempt in an Army unit is linked to higher risk for other soldiers in that unit, a new study finds

When it comes to military suicides, "there is a crisis on our hands," one veteran says

CNN  — 

Marc Raciti had the tree picked out.

Positioned on a rolling Hawaiian hillside along the North Shore in Oahu, where the now-retired United States Army major was stationed, that tree was where Raciti said he planned to take his last breath. He planned to hang himself.

As a physician assistant, Raciti had been deployed five times, twice to Iraq, and mourned the suicide deaths of three medics who served with him. He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and often fantasized about suicide.

“I did lose three medics after coming back from Iraq to suicide, which exasperated my PTSD, but mine is of survivor’s guilt for the ones I could not save,” Raciti said.

The US Department of Defense has continued to investigate what factors might influence a military member’s risk of suicide attempt, and a new study suggests that previous suicide attempts in a particular unit of members can play a significant role.

Within Army units, the risk of suicide attempts among soldiers increases as the number of attempts made within the past year in their unit rises, according to the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday.

In other words, the greater the number of previous suicide attempts in a unit, the greater the individual risk of a suicide attempt for a soldier in that unit, said Dr. Robert Ursano, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Department of Defense’s Uniformed Services University.

“Historically, you were protected from suicide when you went in the Army. Rates of suicide were about half of those in the civilian population, and around 2009, they increased to above that of the civilian population and they remained high since then,” said Ursano, who was lead author of the new study.