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How to Support Women Who Serve, Their Mental Health: Tips for Providers

Female soldier crawling under barbed wire.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerma

Women represent about 16 percent of our active-duty military force. As they continue to serve, it’s critical that clinicians are equipped to treat their psychological health concerns.

Deputy Director Dr. Kate McGraw of the Deployment Health Clinical Center has spent more than three decades working for the military. Much of her work has been dedicated to the psychological differences and needs of women in the military.

This excerpt from a Clinician’s Corner post, written by McGraw, highlights her perspective on the challenges military females face:

Our female warriors are brave, are dedicated to risking their lives to defend our country, and often juggle a whole lot of other responsibilities at the same time they’re performing their military duties. The problems they face can involve leadership acceptance, childcare, the biological impact of estrogen, societal role expectations, sexual harassment and assault, and ostracism by peers due to gender differences and can directly impact psychological health. Females appear to cope with combat-related stress as well as men, but they are more likely to experience higher rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment. They’re also more likely to be treated for depression than men, and appear less likely to endure negative impact from deployment if they experience strong social support pre and post-deployment compared to men.

While psychological health research may show us that over time in some situations women do things differently and respond to events differently than their male counterparts, different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different. Fortunately, we’re making forward progress; some of Defense Department health research is now focused on how to better understand and help military females with a variety of psychological issues, as well as how we can help the culture better support and respect differences amongst us. We also now have a standing Defense Department work group dedicated to supporting the mental health needs of women in the military, developed and implemented at the Deployment Health Clinical Center.

Read more about how clinicians can be more supportive to military females who seek treatment.

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This page was last updated on: May 16, 2017.