Gender Differences in Suicide and Self-Directed Violence Risk Among Veterans With Post-traumatic Stress and Substance Use Disorders

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Women's health issues


BACKGROUND: Veterans have a high prevalence of both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders (SUDs), which are related to suicide risk. Exploring gender-related differences in suicidal behavior risk among this subgroup of veterans is important to improve prevention and treatment strategies. To date, few studies have explored these differences.

METHODS: The sample included 352,476 men and women veterans from the Women Veterans Cohort Study with a diagnosis of PTSD. First, we conducted analyses to assess gender-related differences in sociodemographic and clinical variables at baseline, as well as by suicidal behavior. Then, we conducted a series of Cox proportional hazards regression models to estimate the hazard ratios of engaging in self-directed violence (SDV) and dying by suicide by SUD status and gender, controlling for potential confounders.

RESULTS: Adjusted analyses showed that, among veterans with PTSD, the presence of a SUD significantly increased the risk of SDV and death by suicide. Women with PTSD had a decreased risk of dying by suicide compared with men. No gender-related difference was observed for SDV. SUD increased the risk of SDV behavior in both women and men but increased the risk of dying by suicide only among men.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings revealed gender-related differences in SDV and suicide among veterans with a PTSD diagnosis with or without a SUD. Our study, along with the increasing numbers of women serving in the military, stresses the need to conduct gender-based analyses to help improve prevention and treatment strategies.

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