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J Affect Disord. 2013 Sep 25;150(3):1226-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.087. Epub 2013 Jun 22.

Age and belongingness moderate the effects of combat exposure on suicidal ideation among active duty Air Force personnel.

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National Center for Veterans Studies, USA.



To determine if intensity of combat exposure relates to suicidal ideation among active duty Air Force personnel according to age and perceived belonging.


Self-report measures of suicidal ideation, combat exposure (e.g., firing weapons, being fired upon), aftermath exposure (e.g., seeing dead bodies and devastation), emotional distress, belongingness, and perceived burdensomeness were completed by 273 (81.7% male; 67.8% Caucasian, 20.5% African American, 2.2% Native American,.7% Asian,.4% Pacific Islander, and 8.4% "other"; age M=25.99, SD=5.90) active duty Air Force Security Forces personnel. Multiple regression modeling was utilized to test the associations of combat exposure and aftermath exposure with recent suicidal ideation.


A significant age-by-combat exposure interaction was found (B=0.014, SE=0.006, p=0.019), suggesting combat exposure and suicidal ideation was strongest among military personnel above the age of 34. The age-by-aftermath exposure interaction was not significant (B=-0.003, SE=0.004, p=0.460). A significant three-way interaction of age, combat exposure, and belongingness was also found (B=0.011, SE=0.005, p=0.042). The Johnson-Neyman test indicated that suicidal ideation was most severe among Airmen above the age of 29 years with high combat exposure and low levels of belongingness.


Cross-sectional, self-report design limited to two Air Force units.


A strong sense of belonging protects against suicidal ideation among Airmen above the age of 29 years who have been exposed to higher levels of combat.


Belonging; Combat; Military; Protective factors; Suicidal ideation; Suicide

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