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The Effects of Suicide Exposure on Mental Health Outcomes Among Post-9/11 Veterans: Protocol for an Explanatory, Sequential, Mixed Methods Study.

Sayer NA, Nelson DB, Gradus JL, Sripada RK, Murdoch M, Teo AR, Orazem RJ, Cerel J. The Effects of Suicide Exposure on Mental Health Outcomes Among Post-9/11 Veterans: Protocol for an Explanatory, Sequential, Mixed Methods Study. JMIR research protocols. 2023 Sep 26; 12:e51324.

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BACKGROUND: The toll associated with suicide goes well beyond the individual who died. This study focuses on a risk factor for veteran suicide that has received little previous empirical attention-exposure to the suicide death of another person. OBJECTIVE: The study''s primary objective is to describe the mental health outcomes associated with suicide exposure among veterans who served on active duty after September 2001 ("post-9/11"). The secondary objective is to elucidate why some veterans develop persistent problems following suicide exposure, whereas others do not. METHODS: This is an explanatory, sequential, mixed methods study of a nationally representative sample of post-9/11 veterans enrolled in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. Our sampling strategy was designed for adequate representation of female and American Indian and Alaska Native veterans to allow for examination of associations between suicide exposure and outcomes within these groups. Primary outcomes comprise mental health problems associated with trauma and loss (posttraumatic stress disorder and prolonged grief disorder) and suicide precursors (suicidal ideation, attempts, and planning). Data collection will be implemented in 3 waves. During wave 1, we will field a brief survey to a national probability sample to assess exposure history (suicide, other sudden death, or neither) and exposure characteristics (eg, closeness with the decedent) among 11,400 respondents. In wave 2, we will include 39.47% (4500/11,400) of the wave-1 respondents, stratified by exposure history (suicide, other sudden death, or neither), to assess health outcomes and other variables of interest. During wave 3, we will conduct interviews with a purposive subsample of 32 respondents exposed to suicide who differ in mental health outcomes. We will supplement the survey and interview data with VA administrative data identifying diagnoses, reported suicide attempts, and health care use. RESULTS: The study began on July 1, 2022, and will end on June 30, 2026. This is the only national, population-based study of suicide exposure in veterans and the first one designed to study differences based on sex and race. Comparing those exposed to suicide with those exposed to sudden death for reasons other than suicide (eg, combat) and those unexposed to any sudden death may allow for the identification of the common and unique contribution of suicide exposure to outcomes and help seeking. CONCLUSIONS: Integrating survey, qualitative, and VA administrative data to address significant knowledge gaps regarding the effects of suicide exposure in a national sample will lay the foundation for interventions to address the needs of individuals affected by a suicide death, including female and American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. INTERNATIONAL REGISTERED REPORT IDENTIFIER (IRRID): DERR1-10.2196/51324.

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