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Study: Transgendered Veterans Committing Suicide At Dangerously High Levels

A new study of transgender military veterans concluded their suicide is very similar to the rate for veterans suffering from schizophrenia or serious depression.

The research of the general population of transgendered individuals (TIs) so far indicates a troubled and disturbed community. Suicidal ideation, that is, a mental obsession with suicide, reaches up to 60 percent in the general transgender population, and the risk of attempted suicide is fixed at 30 percent. The 30 percent figure has remained stable over multiple studies in Europe, although much more evidence is available regarding violence, rates of HIV infection, smoking, and prison time.

Since 2011, Veterans Affairs has set the health of TIs as a priority through a national directive. According to the directive, staff need to be educated on TI health issues and how to best serve these individuals. (RELATED: VA Records Used For Taxpayer-Funded Study Of Transgenders) 

In this case, researchers looked at a sample of 3,327 transgendered veterans over a period of 10 years, from 2000 to 2009, finding that the overall suicide rate was 82/100,000 person-years, a figure calculated by taking the number of incidences in a population and dividing it over time. The average age of suicide for transgendered veterans was 49.4 years of age. Researchers used data from Veterans Affairs databases, since there are far more TIs in the military population, compared to the general population.

Overall veteran suicide rates are only at 37.7/100,000 person-years. When combined with factors like substance abuse and schizophrenia, the rates jump up to 81.2 and 83.3, with schizophrenia just edging over the category of transgender as a cause of suicide. What makes the transgender population distinct is that suicides occurred at an even younger age than veterans who committed suicide as a result of suffering from schizophrenia.

“Self-directed violence is a major concern among transgender populations, but information about rates of death by suicide is limited,” study authors noted when discussing the results.

During the study, approximately 9.3 percent of the sample died. For this subset of the overall sample, researchers listed 64.2 years as the average age for patients dying from disease and 49.4 years as the average age of suicide.

“VA has a multifaceted strategy to reduce suicide among veterans. Its commitment in 2011, and reaffirmed in 2013, to provide respectful transgender-specific healthcare as well staff training in transgender cultural awareness and sensitivity may also address the high suicide rate among transgender veterans,” said William Byne of the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York.

Back in 2012, the American Medical Association removed the term “gender identity disorder” and replaced it with “gender dysphoria,” which applies only to individuals who feel uncomfortable with their gender.

“The changes help make clear that there is nothing pathological about having a transgender identity, and that the role of the mental health profession is to affirm and support individuals in being themselves in the face of societal misunderstanding,” Mara Keisling, executive director of The National Center for Transgender Equality said at the time of the decision.

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