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In this issue: Preventing Suicide among Veterans
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March 2021

Preventing Firearm-Inflicted Suicide among Female Veterans

Feature Article

Takeaway: By understanding the experiences and perspectives of female Veterans, their spouses/partners, and VA providers, findings from this study will inform the development of gender-sensitive interventions for approaching firearm lethal means safety.

Firearms are now the leading means of suicide among female Veterans, and nearly 40% of female Veterans report having household firearms that they do not personally own, which often occurs through spouses or partners. Lethal means safety (LMS; reducing access to lethal means when suicide risk is elevated) is a highly recommended suicide prevention strategy. Including family members in firearm LMS efforts may be particularly important for female Veterans. Prior research also suggests that Veterans rarely initiate firearm discussions with their VHA providers, who seldom assess firearm access, despite its association with suicide risk. Thus, a multi-systemic perspective that encompasses the perspectives of female Veterans, their spouses or partners, and VHA providers is essential.

This ongoing study (December 2020 – May 2022) is innovative in its goal to understand the inherent needs and preferences of female Veterans, and it will be the first to interview female Veterans, spouses and partners, and VA providers regarding experiences and preferences for firearm LMS. This is highly innovative as spouses and partners have rarely been included in Veteran suicide prevention research, despite increasing the likelihood of female Veterans’ firearm access. Specific aims include:

  • Describe female Veterans’ experiences, perspectives, and preferences regarding firearm access and LMS, and explore the role of interpersonal violence;
  • Explore the perspectives and experiences of female Veterans’ partners and spouses regarding engaging in firearm LMS (e.g., ability, willingness); and
  • Describe VA mental health and primary care providers’ experiences and perspectives on discussing firearm access and LMS with female Veterans, including challenges and facilitators.

Methods

Qualitative interviews will be conducted with: 1) female Veterans who own firearm(s) or reside in a household with firearm(s) and have experienced suicidal ideation or attempt; 2) partners and spouses of female Veterans; and 3) VA mental health and primary care providers who work with female Veterans.

Findings

Results will be synthesized to develop a patient-centered, gender-sensitive firearm LMS intervention for female Veterans, as well as resources for family members and VA providers. Key operations partners will be engaged in this process to ensure feasible recommendations and wide dissemination of findings.  

Anticipated Impact

Effective suicide prevention necessitates a well-informed, patient-centered approach. Yet firearm knowledge specific to female Veterans remains limited and has largely relied upon extrapolating data from male Veterans. By understanding the experiences and perspectives of female Veterans, their spouses/partners, and VA providers, findings will inform development of gender-sensitive conceptual understanding and interventions for approaching firearm LMS in this population. Findings can be used to delineate a tailored firearm LMS intervention for female Veterans that can subsequently be piloted for acceptability, feasibility, and ultimately efficacy.

Principal Investigator: Lindsey Monteith, PhD, is part of the Rocky Mountain MIRECC.

Publications

None to report at this time.

View study abstract

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