The rate of suicide among active duty U.S. military personnel has been rising rapidly over the past few years. Numerous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can play a role in combating depression that could lead to suicide. The U.S. military has commissioned a $3 million study to investigate whether omega-3 supplements can help curb the suicide rate among members of the military and veterans.
Military suicides rising
In today’s military, a soldier, sailor, airman or marine is more likely to die by suicide than in combat. Nearly 350 service members have taken their own lives in 2012—twice the rate of civilians and 20 percent of total suicides in the U.S,, according to the Veterans Administration.
In 2011, there were 17,754 suicide attempts among veterans last year, an increase from 10,888 in 2009. In July 2012, 26 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, the highest monthly total since the military began tracking suicides.
Omega-3 and depression
Suicide is directly linked to depression and studies have found that people with a deficit in omega-3 fatty acids have a greater risk of depression. Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids—of which fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna are rich sources, play a role in repair and regeneration of brain cells, can help alleviate depression.
As the military suicide rate has been rising, psychiatric experts have been searching for a way to stem the tide. An analysis by the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences found that service members with higher levels of the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were less likely to attempt suicide.
The omega-3 suicide study
Those findings have led the Department of Defense to commission a $10 million, 3-year study to learn more about how omega-3 supplements can help stressed out service members feel less suicidal.
Participants in the study will include veterans or active service members referred to a VA mental health treatment program who have reported having suicidal thoughts. Researchers will also include people with alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. They will either drink omega-3 fruit smoothies or a placebo twice a day.
Over time, researchers will interview participants to measure the degree of their suicidal tendencies, as well as anxiety levels and cognitive abilities. Those in danger of harming themselves will be treated accordingly.
Cheap solution for expensive problem?
Facing deep budget cuts, the military could use a low-cost solution for this metastasizing problem. While psychiatric therapy can cost thousands of dollars per person, a bottle of omega-3 fish oil supplements can cost between $12 to $35.
Much like many medical breakthroughs driven by combat, what’s good for the military may also be good for the general population. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 8 million American adults have seriously considered suicide in the last year and 100 take their own lives every day.