Suicide rate among young women veterans more than twice that of civilians

December 1, 2010
Blog Entry, Brain & Behavior, Health

PORTLAND, Ore. — Young women veterans are nearly three times as likely as civilians to commit suicide, according to new research published by researchers at Portland State University (PSU) and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

The paper, “Self-Inflicted Deaths Among Women With U.S. Military Service: A Hidden Epidemic?” appears in the December 2010 issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal published by the American Psychiatric Association. This work is the first general population study of current suicide risk among women who’ve served in the U.S. military.

According to the data, female veterans aged 18 to 34 are at highest risk.

“Women veterans are more likely to complete suicide than nonveteran women,” said Bentson McFarland, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine. McFarland co-authored the paper with Mark Kaplan, Dr.P.H., and Nathalie Huguet, Ph.D., of Portland State University.

“The rate was lower in the next oldest age group we studied, aged 35 to 44, and the rate was lower still among those aged 45 to 64. However, even within this age group, the rate was higher than civilian women’s suicide rates.”

The study examined data on 5,948 female suicides committed between 2004 and 2007. In the 18 to 34 age group alone, there were:

  • 56 suicides among 418,132 female veterans (1 in 7,465).
  • 1,461 suicides among 33,257,362 nonveterans (1 in 22,763).

“This study shows that young women veterans have nearly triple the suicide rate of young women who never served in the military,” said Kaplan, co-author of the study and professor of Community Health at PSU. “The elevated rates of suicide among women veterans should be a call-to-action, especially for clinicians and caregivers to be aware of warning signs and helpful prevention resources such as the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline [1-800-273-TALK (8255) press "1"].

The research, funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, was conducted by tracking suicide data in the 16 states that constitute the National Violent Death Reporting System , a program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About Portland State University

Portland State University (PSU) serves as a center of opportunity for over 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Located in Portland, Oregon, one of the nation’s most livable cities, the University’s innovative approach to education combines academic rigor in the classroom with field-based experiences through internships and classroom projects with community partners. The University’s 49-acre downtown campus exhibits Portland State’s commitment to sustainability with green buildings, while many of the 125 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. PSU’s motto, “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” inspires the teaching and research of an accomplished faculty whose work and students span the globe.

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland’s largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.

About the American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at www.psych.org and www.HealthyMinds.org.


Suicide rate among young women veterans more than twice that of civilians

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