New Study Finds Suicide Rates are Double for Male Veterans Vs. Civilians
Author: Office of University Communications, 503-725-3711
Posted: June 11, 2007

Male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as their civilian counterparts, according to a recent study by health researchers at Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University. The findings are published in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

“We clearly demonstrated that independent of when they served in the military, veterans were all equally at risk for suicide. What’s more, we showed that veterans were at a greater risk of dying of suicide when compared to the non-veteran population,” said Mark Kaplan, lead author and professor in the School of Community Health at Portland State University. “Impaired functional status or disability also appeared to increase the risk of suicide mortality among male veterans.”

Unlike previous research that focused on suicidal behavior among Vietnam-era veterans, and relied almost exclusively on clinical populations, this study evaluated a sample from the general population. The researchers used a large nationally representative data set from 104,026 veterans.

“It is important to study the risk factors for suicide among veterans especially with the returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Bentson McFarland, M.D., co-author and professor of psychiatry, public health and preventive medicine at OHSU School of Medicine. “Health care providers and family members need to be aware of the fact that veterans are at an increased risk for suicide.”

Other findings of the study include:
* Whites and those with 12-plus years or more of education are at greater risk for suicide.
* The risk of death from other causes such as disease or accidents did not differ between veterans and nonveterans.
* Overweight vets had a lower risk for suicide.
* Activity limitation increased veterans’ risk factors.
* Veterans are 58 percent more likely to be use firearms to commit suicide than nonveterans.

“In light of current veterans coming home with serious physical disabilities and psychiatric problems, their families and health care providers need to be more attentive to the early signs of depression and suicidal behavior, including access to firearms,” Kaplan said.

This study is a prospective follow-up from the 1986–1994 National Health Interview Surveys and linked to the 1986–1997 Multiple Cause of Death file from the National Death Index.

Suicide is a major cause of death in the United States. Approximately 30,000 people commit suicide a year, and another 650,000 are seen in emergency departments after an attempted suicide. Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women.

Co-authors on the study include Kaplan; McFarland; Nathalie Huguet, research associate, School of Community Health, Portland State University; and Jason Newsom, associate professor, Institute on Aging, Portland State University.

The research was funded with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Particulars: Mark Kaplan holds adjunct appointments in psychiatry and family medicine at OHSU, and epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottawa, along with teaching at Portland State. His research focuses on using population-wide data to understand suicide risk factors among senior populations. Kaplan has contributed to state and federal suicide prevention initiatives and serves on the American Association of Suicidology Council of Delegates.

Bentson McFarland is an adjunct investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and professor of pharmacy (by courtesy) at Oregon State University College of Pharmacy. In addition, McFarland is a consulting psychiatrist to the Oregon Addictions and Mental Health Division and to the Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services Division and a senior scientist at the Oregon Research Institute.

School of Community Health
The School of Community Health in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University offers a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Health Studies, a minor in Community Health, a Master of Science in Physical Activity and Risk Reduction, and a Graduate Certificate in Gerontology. The School also offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Promotion as part of the Oregon Master of Public Health. The MPH is a collaborative degree between Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University and Portland State University.

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Source: Angela D. Abel (503-725-8794)
PSU Office of University Communications

Source: Christine Decker (503-494-8231)
Oregon Health & Science University