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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Female Veterans at Higher Risk for Suicide

By Laura Lythgoe, Public Affairs Specialist
Monday, January 9, 2012

Even though men die from suicide almost four times as often, suicide attempts are almost tripled for women. Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and kills more people each year than homicide or AIDS. Women in their 40s and 50s are taking their own lives more often than other same gender related age groups, but with more women joining the Armed Forces, death by suicide for women is expected to increase.

More and more women are returning from combat positions carrying burdens of their experience while trying to live normal lives again. Veteran-specific risk factors for suicide include: frequency and length of deployments and the location (hostile environments), exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service (higher for women, but can happen to men as well) and service related injuries. Add these factors to general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, recent losses - whether physical, financial or personal - feelings of hopelessness, and varying degrees of depression. All of these factors may lead to more suicides or attempts amongst younger female Veterans in the future.

Acute warning signs and symptoms are: threatening to hurt or kill self, looking for ways to kill self, seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means and talking or writing about death, dying or suicide. Other signs of concern include: rage and anger, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, feeling trapped, anxiety or agitation, dramatic mood swings, feeling there’s no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life, difficulty sleeping and giving away possessions.

Dr. Mark De Santis, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center said life stressors like marriage problems, job loss or relationship trouble can also be triggers.

"Once you begin to recognize some of these risk factors, it is critically important to ask if the person is thinking of suicide," said De Santis. "Once you believe that they may need help, assure them that treatment is available."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide call the National Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day/7 days a week.


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