Women Veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared to non-Veteran women.
Women are the fastest growing Veteran group. So, it is more important than ever that providers talk with female Veterans and understand their unique suicide risks.
Sadly, interpersonal violence is common among women Veterans. This may include military sexual trauma, intimate partner violence, and childhood physical and sexual assault.
These factors can raise a woman’s chance of mental health problems. Those problems include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and substance use disorders, which may lead to thoughts of suicide.
Meeting the needs of women Veterans
Dr. Lindsey Monteith, clinical research psychologist, and Dr. Claire Hoffmire, epidemiologist, are VA researchers committed to improving our understanding of suicide risk and resilience among female Veterans. Their research shows that women Veterans often have complex health issues.
Understanding these Veterans’ preferences for health care is key. “It’s important to take a trauma-informed approach to care when treating women Veterans,” Monteith said. “Our research suggests the patient-provider relationship is essential for acceptable, effective assessment and intervention. Women Veterans have shared that talking about mental health concerns, as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors, can be vulnerable and stigmatizing.”
VA and community providers should focus on building trusting, safe relationships with female Veterans. This may help them feel secure and more willing to share their physical and mental health concerns.
But screening for suicide risk often needs to occur early in the patient-provider relationship. Sensitive questions should be revisited as the relationship grows.
Suicide risk management resources
Hoffmire urges clinicians to review new resources from the Women’s Mental Health section of the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
“The VA Reproductive Mental Health Consultation Program, From Science to Practice Series, and the annual Women’s Mental Health Mini-Residency can help providers learn more about suicide prevention among women Veterans,” Hoffmire said.
Monteith also suggests providers use VA’s Suicide Risk Management Consultation Program (SRM). It can help them care for Veterans at risk for suicide. The consultation program offers free consultation, support, education and resources for community and VA providers.
In recognition of Women’s Health Week and as part of its monthly lecture series, SRM is hosting Monteith and Hoffmire May 12. During this one-hour virtual webinar, they will discuss suicide risk, protective factors, and ongoing efforts to understand women Veteran’s experiences and the need for suicide risk screening. Registration is available on the SRM website.
Molly Powers is a health writer supporting communications for the Suicide Risk Management Program.