Women are generally a lot less likely to kill themselves than men, but female veterans are an exception with shockingly high suicide rates, according to new Veterans Affairs Department research. Among women of all ages who have served in the military, the suicide rate is 28.7 per 100,000—higher than the rate among male civilians, nearly six times the rate of civilian women, and approaching the 32.1 rate among male veterans, the Los Angeles Times reports. "It's staggering," a Northeastern University epidemiologist tells the Times. "We have to come to grips with why the rates are so obscenely high." Women vets ages 18 to 29 kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of civilian women the same age, but the rate was up to eight times higher even among women who served in the 1950s.
The study involved data on 173,969 adult suicides in 23 states over 11 years, which included the deaths of 40,571 male vets and 2,637 female vets. The Times looks at the 2011 death of 24-year-old veteran Katie Lynn Cesena and finds that her suicide involved two factors that could help explain the high suicide rate: She left the Navy after she reported being raped, and she used a gun—a lethal method more common among men, but also prevalent among female veterans. The researchers, whose study is published in Psychiatric Services, also note that other studies have shown that people who join the military are more likely to have had troubled childhoods and it could be the case that women who signed up were at higher risk of suicide in the first place. (Read more suicide stories.)