PTSD symptoms and suicidal ideation in US female firefighters

Occup Med (Lond). 2019 Dec 31;69(8-9):577-585. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqz057.


Background: Little is known regarding the mental health of women firefighters.

Aims: To identify demographic, work-related and mental health characteristics associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and lifetime suicidal ideation in female firefighters compared with male colleagues.

Methods: Participants were firefighters (75 women and 2564 men) employed in a large urban fire department in the USA. Chi-square, correlations, t-tests and analyses of variance were conducted to examine the predictors of PTSD symptoms and lifetime suicide ideation in men and women.

Results: Approximately 20% of women scored positively for PTSD and 30% reported lifetime suicidal ideation. Women with PTSD symptoms were more likely to be in their mid-career years (11-20) than in their first 10 years (87% versus 44%; χ2 = 8.77, P < 0.05) and to have received counselling (53% versus 14%; χ2 = 8.11, P < 0.01). Being single (73% versus 58%; χ2 = 6.02, P < 0.05), having a second job (68% versus 38%; χ2 = 5.79, P < 0.05) and having received counselling (41% versus 11%; χ2 = 8.51, P < 0.01) predicted suicide ideation. Depression and general stress positively predicted PTSD symptoms and suicide ideation. PTSD also predicted suicide ideation.

Conclusions: Compared to male firefighters, women were at high risk for PTSD symptoms and suicide ideation. Particularly for women, few socio-demographic and work-related variables were associated with these outcomes. Mental health variables predicted depression and suicide ideation for both gender groups. Therefore, in screening and intervention efforts, it may be most fruitful to focus on mental health risk correlates of PTSD and suicide ideation.

Keywords: PTSD; suicidal ideation; women firefighters.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Firefighters / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology