PTSD in the Military

Men and women in the military have one fairly unique risk for PTSD: exposure to active combat situations. In past decades, female soldiers weren’t often exposed to such situations. However, times have changed, and women now fill active or supporting combat roles with some regularity. Compared to their male counterparts, women in the military have a much higher rate of exposure to another risk factor for PTSD: sexual assault. In addition, they share certain sources of stress with men, including worries over family matters and loneliness produced by separation from loved ones or redeployment to unfamiliar units.

Symptoms in Women vs. Symptoms in Men

All people with PTSD develop symptoms that fall into four broad categories:

  • Re-experiencing of the source of trauma
  • Avoidance of trauma reminders
  • Symptoms of hyperarousal or an excessive tendency to react nervously, anxiously or aggressively to everyday situations, and
  • Negative changes in normal mood or thought capacity

To receive an official diagnosis of the disorder, both men and women must experience at least one symptom from each of these categories. However, the National Center for PTSD notes that women typically experience some specific problems more often than men. Examples of these problems include:

  • A jumpy or jittery state of mind
  • Avoidance of trauma reminders
  • Problems accessing emotions, and
  • Bouts of anxiety or depression

On the other hand, when symptoms appear, women have a greater likelihood of seeking help than men. Women may also respond to treatment better than men in some cases.

Unanswered Questions

Researchers are still gathering important data on the effects of serious trauma on female soldiers. Specifically, they need more information on how combat-related trauma can interact with trauma caused by sexual assault or sexual harassment. This means that no one currently has the full picture on how women in the military develop or experience PTSD.

Resources

National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – National Center for PTSD: Traumatic Stress in Women Veterans                                                                                                 http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/women/traumatic-stress-female-vets.asp

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – National Center for PTSD: Women, Trauma and PTSD http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/women/women-trauma-and-ptsd.asp

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