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Study Finds Mental Health Gaps For Female Veterans

Female forces veterans "fall through the gaps" in mental health support both whilst serving and afterwards, a new report reveals.

Female forces veterans “fall through the gaps” in mental health support both whilst serving and afterwards, a new report reveals.

Researchers found women feel that the services are still too “blokey” and don’t take into account their experience or family role.

Female forces veterans “fall through the gaps” in mental health support both whilst serving and afterwards, a new report reveals. HANNAH SKELLY/UNSPLASH

This means they don’t access what is available and often have to try and cope on their own.

Researchers from the Centre for Military Women’s Research (CMWR) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) said issues of identity, male-dominated branding and apprehension that their needs will go unmet are among the reasons women are not accessing veterans’ mental health support.

Principal investigator Dr. Lauren Godier-McBard, Associate Professor and co-director of the CMWR said: “Our report found that women veterans experienced mental health challenges for many reasons related to both their military service and transition into civilian life, from facing discrimination or sexual violence in their service role, to struggling with identity or caring responsibilities.

“It appears from the interviews we carried out that many ex-servicewomen feel they fall through the gaps between mental health services for civilians and military veterans.

“Many did not identify with the word ‘veteran’, considering it to be a male label or preferring to identify with the various other roles in their life, such as being a parent.”

The team decided to investigate the low numbers of ex-servicewomen engaging with veteran-specific mental health services.

They interviewed 48 women veterans in England who had experienced a mental health challenge within the past five years.

They also talked to 12 mental health professionals to produce overall guidance specifically for female veterans.

They say there are approximately a quarter of a million female veterans in England and Wales.

They make up 13.6 percent of the veteran community of 1.85 million, but many fall through the gaps between civilian and military mental health provision.

The team said that mental health problems were not just related to combat or deployment.

Many women did not identify with the term ‘veteran’, didn’t know what support was available, thought it was branded solely at men and found their family lives made it more difficult to access.

One Royal Air Force veteran, who served between 1989 and 1996, said: “It was only recently that I viewed myself as a veteran, so I kind of dismissed anything to do with the military in terms of accessing any support”

An Army veteran, who served from 1999-2002, added she felt military support organizations were “not going to be able to understand me talking about my sexual assault, sexual harassment, or discrimination.

“And it would almost feel like that organization as a whole would be rolling their eyes on the end of the phone.”

Lead author of the report, Abigail Wood, Research Fellow at the Centre for Military Women’s Research at ARU, said: “To encourage women to approach services in the first place, improving the visibility of women in service branding and materials was seen as critical.

“Clinician understanding of both the military lifestyle and women’s unique military experiences was considered important, as was giving women veterans the choice of clinicians based on their military background and gender, and the option of women-only treatment groups.

“There are plenty of services that offer support to women veterans, and hopefully this report will assist those services and veterans themselves to ensure that more people reach out for mental health help.”

Patricia Price, peer researcher at ARU and Army veteran, said: “What all women veterans want is to be seen and heard, without pre-judgement, without a tick box and without being seen as the cause of the issue they need support to resolve.

“We are equally as deserving of support, recognition and respect as each and every other professional member of the Armed Forces and each and every other Armed Forces Veteran is.

Female forces veterans “fall through the gaps” in mental health support both whilst serving and afterwards, a new report reveals. RDNE STOCK PROJECT/SWNS

“Women in the Armed Forces are entitled to a successful and fulfilling veteran life. We simply must do better for them.”

The report was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and will be presented at the CMWR’s inaugural conference in Cambridge.


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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