MENTAL HEALTH OF WOMEN VETERANS
At present, 91 percent of US veterans are men while 9 percent are women, and that number is increasing exponentially: by 2045 the percentage of veterans who are women is expected to double to nearly 18 percent. Considering their growing numbers it is not only important that you ask a woman if she has been in the military, but also to understand that although women’s military history may be similar to that of their male counterparts—especially since they are now formally recognized for their service in combat—women face additional risks for poor mental health as mentioned in the table below.
Recommended Reading: Women Veteran Screening Guide
A guide across all sectors to identify women veterans within their organization, better understand the issues they face, and create strategies for more effective care.
Compared to their male counterparts, women veterans have also been found to have higher levels of pre-deployment stressors (e.g., adverse childhood events, pre-existing mental health conditions, sexual and domestic violence), as well as pre- and post-deployment PTSD symptoms. In addition, non-deployment stressors such as family responsibilities are greater for women and consequently represent additional mental health risks. Furthermore, women with TBI are substantially more likely to have comorbidities than male veterans, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.
KEY FACTS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH OF WOMEN VETERANS
Women veterans, compared to their civilian counterparts and veteran men, experience a significantly higher rate of post-deployment depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
Women veterans also have shown a greater lack of improvement in their PTSD symptoms than their male counterparts.
Women veterans who experience MST are at high risk for PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation and other mental health conditions.
Non-combat deployment stressors (worries about family or other factors back home) as well as non-combat war zone exposures can be stronger risks for adverse mental health than combat exposure and the duration of deployments.
The added family responsibilities that many women shoulder have been found to be a risk for poor mental health compared to their male counterparts. Women’s health takes on greater significance, because women still play the primary childrearing role, and thus their health—more than that of men—can affect family functioning.
MENTAL HEALTH OF LGBTQ+ VETERANS
There are approximately one million US veterans who identify as LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ veterans are estimated to have twice the rate of depression and suicidal ideation as other veterans and higher rates of mental health disorders than their non-veteran counterparts. On top of the risks that other veterans have for poor mental health and suicidal ideation, LGBTQ+ veterans have the added burdens of stigmatization, marginalization, and discrimination not only within the general population but also within the military and/or veteran populations.
Thus, these conflicts create a deterrent to seeking VA healthcare. Additionally, some may perceive the VA to be an unwelcoming place to receive healthcare and insensitive to their needs. Some LGBTQ+ veterans who were targets of harassment by male veterans may feel unwelcome or unsafe at a male veteran-dominated VA healthcare facility and are consequently more likely to have delayed care or have avoided it altogether. All of these patterns are even more pronounced for transgender veterans.
It is important to note that the VA does provide services for LGBTQ+ veterans, including hormone therapy for transgender veterans, and many VA facilities have made tremendous strides to increase their cultural understanding of LGBTQ+ veterans, some centers going so far as to provide LGBTQ+ specific clinics.
MENTAL HEALTH OF AGING VETERANS
Sixty-eight percent of all veterans are age 55 and over, and the average age of Vietnam veterans is 68. More than half of veterans who experience homelessness are over 51, and we have seen a particular increase in homelessness among veterans over age 62.
Despite the increased numbers of veterans using VA benefits, only 40 percent of Vietnam veterans use VA healthcare; the majority seek care from community systems. Research focusing on the mental health of aging veterans fails to capture the full picture because studies rely on data from the VA, and we do not see the many aging veterans who do not access VA care in the VA’s statistics that inform much of the ongoing research.
- Veterans with PTSD age prematurely and older veterans with PTSD symptoms are more likely to experience poor general health including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, and autoimmune disease.
- PTSD symptoms may persist even 50 or more years or increase with age.
- In other cases, Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS) may occur for some veterans as they age and look back on their combat experiences.
- PTSD has also been associated with early cognitive decline. Additionally, declining health as a veteran ages can exacerbate or even trigger the onset of PTSD symptoms. Thus, we see that PTSD is associated with increased need for healthcare as veterans age.
- Depression is common among aging populations, and is not only more common in the aging veteran population, but is even more common among Vietnam veterans compared to Korea or WWII veterans.
- Eleven percent of veterans aged 65 years and older have a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder which is twice the percentage in the general population of the same age. But that rate may be an underestimate as the majority of veterans do not self-report their depression or are not diagnosed.