Mental Health

Female veterans at greater risk of mental health issues than male counterparts, study finds

Watch: Female veterans talk mental health and the help available.

A study has found female veterans are at more risk of mental health issues than their male counterparts.

Figures from the charity Combat Stress show that around one in 10 female veterans live with PTSD symptoms compared to around 7% of men who have left the military.

The rate among the civilian population is around 4.5%.

The study also found that women veterans also suffer higher rates of isolation and that prejudice during their service is often linked to a higher risk of mental health issues after they leave.

The charity's head of research Professor Dominic Murphy said: "Some of the experiences during military service – particularly women who are forced to leave because of having children – they were reporting difficulties currently.

"Women that reported more prejudice during the military service that made it more difficult when they left the military."

Stacy Pettiford joined the RAF at 17 and suffered mental health problems during her time in the service.

She said: "Once I started having problems, I then saw that, actually, the relationships that I'd had weren't what I thought they [were], that actually I wasn't as taken care of as I thought I'd been and, you know, it became a really dark period of my life, probably the very worst time of my life. 

"I went to my squadron leader who just moved me into a different post that I wasn't trained to do. 

"The squadron I moved to was really nice to me and didn't have that same opinion, but I thought that I'd been part of a family and no-one said to me 'mental health' – no-one said anything other than 'you need to get fit, if you're medically discharged, you'll never get a job in civvy street'.

Figures from charity Combat Stress show around one in ten female veterans live with PTSD symptoms compared to around 7% of men who have left the military (Picture: MOD Crown Copyright).
Figures from charity Combat Stress show around one in ten female veterans live with PTSD symptoms compared to around 7% of men who have left the military (Picture: MOD Crown Copyright).

"So no-one really encouraged me to access support properly, they just coached me into what to say to get signed off to be well.

"I'd attempted suicide twice and then I'm stood on armed guard on a gate with a loaded weapon – that could have been catastrophic." 

She added: "I wasn't well and I didn't understand that I wasn't well and no-one told me that that's (mental health) what it could be."

Claire Wright was in the Navy when she got pregnant and says she suffered from a lack of support.

She said: "I'd got married, had our first child – things were a little bit different then, I couldn't stay on board the ship.

"Back in 2001, there wasn't the same support as there is today to be, you know, a mum and stay in the forces."

She added: "It was difficult. It was like cut all ties – that was it – although I'd still kept in touch with my friends that I made and still in touch today with those people that I served with. It was difficult because it's you're out the Navy now.

Watch: Charity Combat Stress' top tips for good mental health.

"The day that I went to sick bay, obviously, I was off the ship the same day – yeah, that was quite tough."

Both Claire and Stacy believe getting suitable support is the key to recovery.

Claire said: "People can be very judgmental. 

"I'd like to see people not judge other people and say 'oh, she's in a mood' but, you don't know what's happened, you don't know the chain of events that led to that.

"Sometimes it's been hard to be resilient with the sheer traumas that you have to deal with every day."

Stacy added: "Go to your doctors, let them know that you're a veteran, let them know that you need a different pathway, and ask for that appropriate treatment.

"Please step forward into your truth, please come to see us at Combat Stress if your needs are complex mental health."

She added: "There are other services if they are not and they want to help you and usually there's another veteran that totally gets it and totally understands and you will be treated with care and dignity and respect."

If you or someone you know needs support at this time, find help available on our website.

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