New research suggests a hidden epidemic of suicide among younger women with military service. Researchers found a markedly elevated risk for young women veterans, with elevated risks for middle-aged and older women with current or past military service.

Study authors Bentson H. McFarland, M.D., Ph.D.; Mark S. Kaplan, Dr.P.H., and Nathalie Huguet, Ph.D. suggest that clinicians should inquire about military service among women and should recognize that suicide prevention practices pertain to female as well as male veterans.

"This study shows that young women veterans have nearly triple the suicide rate of young women who never served in the military. This finding is very alarming," said Mark S. Kaplan Dr.P.H., co-author of the study and Professor of Community Health at Portland State University. "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."

This study was the first general population study of current suicide risk among women with U.S. military service and support was provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The study is presented in the December issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association along with several other studies addressing the topic of suicide.

Another study, also looking at suicide among military personnel, sought to better understand the clinical care of veterans before suicide. The retrospective study, by Lauren M. Denneson, Ph.D., and colleagues, looked at 112 veterans who completed suicide between 2000 and 2005 in Oregon and who had contact with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care services in the year prior to the suicide. The researchers examined Veterans Affairs clinicians' assessment of suicide risk during health care visits prior to the completed suicides.

In the year before their suicide, about half of the veterans had mental health contacts and about two-thirds had primary care contacts. Most were seen for routine medical care; common diagnoses included mood disorders and cardiovascular disease. Of the 18 veterans who had been assessed for suicidal ideation at their last visit, 13 denied such thoughts.

Research presented in another article looked at a specific aspect of suicide prevention - engagement in treatment. Previous studies have shown that up to half of suicide attempters refuse recommended treatment, and some 60 percent drop out of treatment after one session. A review of 13 empirical studies by Dana Lizardi, Ph.D., and Barbara Stanley, Ph.D., found that when suicide attempters are discharged from the emergency room or the hospital, postdischarge follow-up by phone, by letter, or in person must be immediate, substantial, and multifaceted to be even minimally effective in preventing future attempts.

Researchers in Austria looked at whether the availability of mental health professionals had an effect on suicide rates. The study authors, led by Nestor D. Kapusta, M.D., found that socioeconomic conditions, which determined the distribution of mental health professionals in the population, were stronger predictors of suicide rates than access to care per se. The authors recommended working to reduce financial barriers as well as geographic barriers to care.

American Psychiatric Association