Suicide and substance use among female veterans: a need for research.
BACKGROUND: The number of female veterans is increasing. Veterans Administration (VA) enrollment increased over 40% from past eras. However, little research has focused on their mental health. We reviewed literature to examine associations of substance use with suicide in female veterans, identify research gaps, and inform future studies. METHODS: Google Scholar, Pub Med, and PsychINFO were searched using: substance use, female veteran, and suicide. Exclusion criteria (e.g., not discussing U.S. veterans) left 17 articles. RESULTS: Nine studies examined completed suicide among veterans. In most recent years, rates of deaths were greater for veterans than nonveterans, including females. Completed suicide was associated with past trauma, young age, and a mental disorder. Studies have often not addressed substance use. Three studies examined completed suicide among VA treated veterans without examining substance use as an associated factor. Rates of completed suicides were also higher among veterans than nonveterans, including females. A large proportion of females also had a mental diagnosis. Five studies examined substance use and attempted or completed suicide among VA treated veterans. Veterans in poor mental health had increased odds of suicide mortality; women with a substance use disorder (SUD) had a higher hazard ratio for completed suicide than men with a SUD. Engagement in substance abuse treatment decreased odds of suicide attempt among veterans. CONCLUSION: Available data suggest that suicide rates are higher among female veterans than women in the general population. Substance use may increase the likelihood of suicidal behaviors among female veterans, particularly those with a mental diagnosis.
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