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Female Veterans Who Died by Suicide: Qualitative Analysis of Medical Records

Denneson LM, Cromer RD, Jacobson LE, Teo AR, Dobscha SK. Female Veterans Who Died by Suicide: Qualitative Analysis of Medical Records. Military Behavioral Health. 2016 Feb 17; 4(3):276-284.

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The suicide rate among female veterans increased 40% between 2000 and 2010, yet very little research has examined the unique psychosocial and health needs of veteran women at high risk for suicide. We describe female veterans' psychosocial experiences, primary health concerns, and health care received prior to suicide to identify areas for future efforts to improve care and reduce suicide in this population. We conducted a qualitative analysis of the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care records of 27 female veterans, drawn from 11 states, during the six months prior to suicide. The women were mostly White, non-Hispanic, and not married, with an average age of 44 (range 26 to 67). We identified several common experiences: non-military-related trauma, lack of supportive relationships, substance use disorders, and prescription of multiple sedatives. We also observed that communication between patients and clinicians may have been insufficient, resulting in undetected or unmet needs. The findings call for additional research to better understand the frequency and impact of these experiences for women veterans and suggest that enhancing patient-centered and trauma-sensitive care, as well as improving outreach and continuity in care, may reduce instances of unmet needs.

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