Female Soldiers Face Sharp Suicide Risk
U.S. Army Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division cross a bridge to Al Zunbria, Iraq, Dec. 29, 2007, during operations to secure the area south of their area of operation.
Credit: Spc. Angelica Golindano

Young female veterans are nearly three times as likely as civilians to commit suicide, finds the first general population study of suicide risk among women who've served in the military.

Among military women, those ages 18 to 34 had the highest risk of suicide, followed by the next oldest age group, 35 to 44, and the lowest suicide rate found among female veterans ages 45 to 64, the researchers said.

"Women veterans are more likely to complete suicide than nonveteran women," said Dr. Bentson McFarland, a professor of psychiatry in the Oregon Health and Science University's School of Medicine.

McFarland and colleagues detail their findings in the December issue of the journal Psychiatric Services.

The researchers analyzed data from 5,948 female suicides committed between 2004 and 2007 from 16 states that were part of the National Violent Death Reporting System, a program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the 18-to-34 age group alone, there were 56 suicides among 418,132 female veterans (1 in 7,465), compared with 1,461 suicides among 33,257,362 nonveterans (1 in 22,763).

"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," said study coauthor Mark Kaplan of Portland State University, adding that the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The research was funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.