For many years the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on veterans has been the topic of discussion among health and activist circles, but usually with the emphasis on male veterans. The effect and details of PTSD in women veterans has been lumped into the amalgamated whole.
Recent studies have made it imperative that we separate the effects of PTSD by gender. Not only do the results of PTSD have different effects based on sex, but the cause of the disorder is greatly affected by the gender of the sufferer.
The primary causes of homeless women veterans included unemployment, disability, poor health and lack of treatment for PTSD and/or anxiety problems.
From our article: Homeless Women Veterans: It’s Worse than you Think
Overall effects of PTSD
This is not to ignore the effects of PTSD in male veterans, of course, but by emphasizing the effects of male veterans, many of the effects that are exclusive to females are deemphasized. PTSD is not a “one size fits all” disorder and the effects, although they can be broadly categorized, are very individualistic. A situation that can cause one veteran to erupt with anger and rage can send another into depression.
The three primary categories of PTSD symptoms are:
- Hyperarousal. This symptom includes anger, irritability, sleeplessness, panic and is the symptom most people think of when they are exposed to PTSD sufferers.
- Re-experience. Commonly thought of as flashbacks, it can also include intrusive memories and nightmares.
- Numbing. This feeling of detachment and disconnection from feeling and loss of interest in life and other people. Withdrawal, depression and estrangement from family and friends is a defining characteristic of this symptom.
Causes of PTSD in women veterans
As more women serve in the military, the rates of PTSD in women veterans continue to keep pace with male statistics. Although some of it is caused by combat or related stress, the effects of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) have an outsized effect on women. MST is almost exclusive to female veterans with only 1.3 percent of male veterans screening positive for it.
The screening, done by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) among their patients, found that female veterans suffered from MST in over 24 percent of its cases. Sufferers of MST were found to be three times likely to suffer mental health issues. This includes PTSD.
VA efforts to study PTSD in women veterans
Because only between 11 and 17 percent of female veterans get their care through the VA, as compared to 26 percent of male veterans, the full effects of PTSD in women veterans is still filled with unknowns. Other factors, such as women veterans seeing the VA as part of the edifice where they suffered MST, also keeps female participation in studies and treatments lower than male participation.
The VA is an organization that is designed to help male combat veterans and though things are changing and care is becoming more inclusive; women are still underrepresented in VA studies. Specifically, studies about PTSD in women veterans.
Women veterans who seek medical assistance outside of the VA are often hesitant to bring up military service and health providers are not trained to ask about it. Traditionally, the idea of women being mentally harmed while in the military has not received the attention it deserves.
Although the effects of PTSD in women veterans is getting more attention now than it has in the past, there is still a great deal of work to be done. New programs and additions to current programs are beginning to make inroads into the mental health issues suffered by many female veterans. The stark differences in both cause and effect of PTSD in male and female veterans is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Please help the NVF continue the fight against PTSD in women veterans.
Journal of General Internal Medicine: The State of Women Veterans’ Health Research, by Caroline L. Goldzweig MD, Cony Rolon BA, Elizabeth M. Yano PhD, and Paul G. Shekelle MD (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00380.x/full)
Sage Journals: Mental Health, Quality of Life, and Health Functioning in Women Veterans, by Alina Suris, Lisa Lind, T. Michael Kashner and Patricia D. Borman (https://jiv.sagepub.com/content/22/2/179.short)
PsychCentral: Understanding the Effects of Trauma: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by Lynn Margolies, PhD (https://psychcentral.com/lib/understanding-the-effects-of-trauma-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/)
National Center for PTSD: Military Sexual Trauma, Amy Street PhD (https://gainscenter.samhsa.gov/cms-assets/documents/175790-785967.streetmstpeer.pdf)