Metro Weekly

Study finds lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans at higher risk of committing suicide

Researchers suggest minority stress may contribute to higher risk of suicidal ideation, but more research is needed

Photo: Israel Palacio.

A study recently published in a journal published by the American Medical Association finds that sexual minority veterans are at increased risk of suicide mortality.

According to the study, published in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the AMA, lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals have a higher lifetime risk of suicidal ideation than heterosexuals, but more data is needed to delve into specifics.

As part of the retrospective population-based cohort study, investigators sought to identify sexual minority veterans by analyzing Veterans Health Administration electronic health record data from between October 1999 and September 2017. LGB veterans were identified through clinical notes and through the “extraction of structured administrative data” for sexual orientation contained in the electronic health records.

Researchers calculated crude and age-adjusted mortality rates for death from suicide and all-cause deaths among veterans, comparing it to the United States population and the general population of veterans.

According to the analysis, 96,893 veterans had one or more sexual minority documentation in the electronic health record. From among that sample, there were 12,951 deaths, 3.5% of which resulted from suicide. That percentage is significantly higher than the general U.S. population, where suicide-related deaths comprise only 1.7% of all deaths. 

Among lesbian, gay or bisexual veterans, suicide was the fifth-leading cause of death in 2017, while suicide is only the tenth-leading cause of death among the general population, the study notes.

See also: Study: Transgender veterans are as healthy as their cisgender peers

“Sexual minority veterans likely have the same risk factors for suicide as non-sexual minority veterans, but they also contend with historical institutional stigma that may influence mortality by suicide, a framework known as minority stress,” wrote Dr. Kristine Lynch, of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System, and one of eight lead authors of the study.

“Minority stress posits that sexual minority populations experience poorer health than heterosexual populations because of distress associated with societal and interpersonal discrimination, prejudice, and violence,” Lynch and her colleagues wrote. “The compounding effects of minority stress may contribute to excess death by suicide among [sexual minority] veterans; however, to our knowledge, no studies have examined suicide mortality among veterans based on [sexual minority’] status.

“The results of this population-based cohort study suggest that sexual minority veterans have a greater risk for suicide than the general US population and the general veteran population,” the researchers concluded. “Further research is needed to determine whether and how suicide prevention efforts reach sexual minority veterans.”

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