With women now serving on the front lines like never before in our nation’s history, the military faces the new challenge of understanding the toll combat takes on the female psyche.
Significant research has been done on the emotional impact of combat on the soldier. The blockbuster film American Sniper did much to raise public awareness of the toll combat can take on soldiers and those they love. In the film, Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, manifests some of the common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s National Center for PTSD defines the condition as “a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, an accident or disaster.” Symptoms include feeling jumpy and easily startled by sudden noises, experiencing disturbing dreams or flashbacks, feeling on guard and constantly alert, feeling hopeless about the future, trouble sleeping, emotional numbness, severe headaches, outbursts of anger, and a strong need to feel in control, among other things.
The VA has found some PTSD symptoms are more common in women than men. Women are more likely to feel jumpy, experience emotional numbness, and avoid situations that remind them of the trauma than men. Women are more likely to feel anxious or depressed, while men are more likely to experience anger and turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope.
According to a VA study released in 2012, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Male veterans are three times more likely to kill themselves than their female counterparts, but women who served in the military are more than twice as likely to take their own lives than those who never served.
One tragic instance of this, as reported by The Tampa Tribune, was 30-year-old Air Force Reservist Capt. Jamie Brunette. She served 11 years on active duty, including two tours in Afghanistan, before leaving to join the Reserves last June. Her most recent deployment ended in March 2013.
Jamie, attractive and athletic, was the youngest of five children, and her father had served in the military. Her friends said, though she could talk freely about other aspects of her life, she would not readily open up about her combat experiences. She did tell her roommate and friend Heather Milner, who was considering joining the military, that her daily experience in Afghanistan was “pretty scary.” She talked of coming under mortar fire on an almost daily basis and seeing people blown up. Jamie confided in her roommate that she was seeking treatment at the VA for PTSD and was depressed.
Jamie took her own life on February 9th near her home in Tampa, completely shocking her family and friends. Looking back, those who knew her realized she was suffering from PTSD. Her sister, Jackie Leverich, said she knew something traumatic had happened to Jamie in Afghanistan, which she kept hidden. “I think in order for us to really have done something about it, we would have had to catch the signs and realize how serious it was and we probably would have had to fly down here and do a confrontation. Whatever happened to her, she buried it and I think it killed her in the end,” Leverich said.
A friend, Jessica Aguilar, said:
When you are enlisted in the military, you have to have some sort of built-up emotion guard, and you have to kind of amount to the male aspect of it and be just as tough. So I think that they kind of put up walls to be strong as maybe their male counterparts. There needs to be more of a focus on women in the military.
Heather hoped others could learn from Jamie’s experience:
Jamie was full of life, and I think if she’s looking down right now, I really think that it would make her so happy to know that her story can help someone else. Even if it’s one person, if there’s another girl out there that’s just as girly as she was but in the military, who can relate to her story and just make her feel like she’s not alone. This happens to other people, and it’s OK to feel sad about it but talk about it. I think that’s the biggest message.
Three days after Jamie’s death, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which will allow the VA to further study the effects of PTSD and recruit more mental health experts to work with our nation’s veterans to overcome these wounds of war.
h/t: Yahoo News
Read more at http://www.westernjournalism.com/va-finds-ptsd-manifests-differently-women-men/#P6gFiRq1wJO8jjcy.99