HALIFAX -- The Canadian military and Veterans Affairs are trying to understand why current and former female personnel in their early 40s were more than twice as likely to die from suicide as their civilian counterparts.
Groundbreaking research by the two departments and Statistics Canada has shown a statistically higher rate in the number of suicide deaths in female former service personnel between the ages of 40 to 44, compared to their civilian counterparts.
The Canadian Forces Cancer and Mortality Study also found a comparative difference in the suicide rate among women of the same age in the military.
"We're a little bit surprised," Col. Colin MacKay, director of Force Health Protection and co-chairman of the study's advisory committee, said in Ottawa. "This was information we hadn't had before and is very important information... because we can now start to look at it more carefully."
Researchers can't explain the difference for that age group, but MacKay cautions it involves a small number of women over a 35-year period.
There were 37 suicides by women in all age groups who were serving or released from the military, with 29 occurring among females years after they left the Canadian Forces.
A spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs said in a statement that officials in the department will review their suicide prevention programs in light of the new findings.
"Last year, we undertook a thorough review of suicide prevention activities," the statement said. "Those activities will now be reviewed in light of the high-risk groups identified in the (study)."
Men ages 16 to 44 who had been released from the military also had a higher risk of death by suicide when compared to the same male civilian age group.
The research also found that people who served from 1972 to 1986 had a greater risk of committing suicide.
Dr. Rakesh Jetly, a psychiatrist and adviser to the military on mental health issues, said there may be an elevated rate among people who were released in earlier decades because there weren't programs to help them transition to the civilian world.
He said people who are released now go through case management, are hooked up with Veterans Affairs and get help finding a family physician, job and education.
"In the past, the release process could be very fast and now the process literally takes years," Jetly said.
-- The Canadian Press