An Examination of Suicide Exposure and Fearlessness about Death on Suicide Risk among Active Duty Service Members, Veterans, and Civilians

Kelly A. Soberay, Julie Cerel, Margaret M. Brown, Myfanwy Maple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Suicide exposure is associated with an increased risk for suicide. There is limited research on the mechanisms that increase this risk. This study aims to: (1) compare suicide exposure and associated variables in veteran, active duty, and civilian participants, (2) examine the extent to which fearlessness about death and suicide risk factors differ as a function of group membership and suicide exposure, and (3) determine the degree to which relationship to the decedent, perceived closeness, and reported impact of the death are associated with fearlessness about death and suicide-related outcomes. 1,533 participants were included, of whom 48% of active duty service members, 65% of veterans, and 58% of civilians reported knowing someone who died by suicide. A series of regressions were conducted. There were group differences by military service on the suicide exposure variables. Furthermore, there were significant main effects for military service group and suicide exposure on the outcome variables. In general, civilians reported greater suicide risk and active duty service members reported greater fearlessness about death. Fearlessness about death mediated the associations between perceived closeness and a history of suicide attempts. The loss of a military colleague to suicide was found to be unique and distinguishable from other important relationships. Results suggest the need to consider suicide exposure and closeness as salient variables associated with fearlessness about death and suicide risk factors. Inquiring about suicide exposure, closeness to the decedent, fearlessness about death, and beyond familial losses to suicide may indicate important avenues of intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1198-1218
Number of pages21
JournalArchives of Suicide Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by a grant from the Military Suicide Research Consortium, an effort supported by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs under Award Nos. W81XWH-10-2-0178 and W81XWH-10-2-0181. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Military Suicide Research Consortium, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Publisher Copyright:
© This work was authored as part of the Contributor’s official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 USC. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under US Law.


  • Fearlessness about death
  • interpersonal theory
  • military
  • suicide
  • suicide exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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