What’s happening to women in the military? New research indicates that females in the U.S. military have suicide rates six times higher than civilian women.
In fact, although men usually have much higher rates than women, the female military suicide rate is so high that it’s approaching the male military rate, the LA Times reports.
The majority of research in the past has focused on males and military suicide, as they represent 90 percent of the veteran population. For this study, researchers drew on a sample size of 173,969 male and female suicides, composed of both veterans and nonveterans for the period between 2000 and 2010. Young female veterans between the ages of 18 to 29 kill themselves at an incredible 12 times the rate of the nonveteran female population.
Experts, however, want to make sure that the figures are placed in appropriate context, so as not to give the wrong impression.
“The six times part can be misleading,” Ronald William Maris, a forensic suicidologist, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If military women have six times higher suicide rates than non-military women, if does not mean much if non-military women have very low suicide rates. For example, to say that 50% of Johns Hopkins coeds are married to their professors is misleading if there are only two, one of which is married to a prof.”
The suicide rate is expressed per 100,000 people. For the non-military female population, the suicide rate is 5.2. For men, 20.9. That number skyrockets up to 28.7 for female veterans, but moves to just 32.1 for men—not even double the number.
“The kind of people (men and women) that are recruited into military are at greater suicide risk whether or not they see combat,” Maris added. “The military trains people for violence, aggression, and war and them gives them guns and separates them from their families. It is no surprise that they would have higher suicide rates than other non-military women.”
Military suicide rates tend to match the population average during periods when the U.S. relied on the draft to fill its armed forces. This suggests that certain types of individuals select themselves into the all-volunteer force, Claire Hoffmire, the VA epidemiologist who headed the research, noted.
“Sort of a stereotypical way of thinking about this is they join the military to get away from or escape from these typical upbringings and childhood bad situations etc.,” Craig Bryan, an assistant professor in clinical psychology at the University of Utah, told TheDCNF. Bryan specializes in the subject of military suicides.
“There is a possibility as well that women who are more likely to be drawn to join the military have values or maybe they have personalities that align a little bit more with those institutional values so in a sense they’re more likely to suppress their emotion.”
For suicide, PTSD is a much greater factor for men, as they’re more often exposed to combat environments. But for females, the impetus for suicide switches to sexual assault.
Women are much more likely to commit suicide by overdosing on medication, Bryan noted.
In one case several years ago, a female veteran suffering from military sexual trauma called into the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline and said she wanted staff to send a message to her husband. She was going to commit suicide, she said, and wanted her husband to know that it wasn’t his fault.
She got up and started walking to the woods. An employee jumped on the line and dialed the VA office nearest to the veteran. Authorities dashed to the scene and found her almost unconscious after an overdose on pills.
The woman survived. Others are not so lucky.
Jacob Bojesson contributed to this report.