Female veterans are not seeking mental health support because of problems related to their identity as women, the dominance of male-oriented branding for veterans’ services, and the fear that their needs won’t be addressed, according to research conducted by the Centre for Military Women’s Research (CMWR) at Anglia Ruskin University.
The report, entitled “I don’t feel like that’s for me: Overcoming barriers to mental healthcare for women veterans,” was based on semi-structured interviews and focus groups with 48 English women veterans and 12 healthcare professionals.
The project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) under its Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Program. It’s goal was to create practical guidance for mental healthcare professionals working with women veterans that included input from women veterans themselves.
According to the report, roughly 13.6%, or around 250,000, of England’s 1.85 million veterans are female. Despite this, and despite the fact that this number is expected to increase, research on mental health needs and, according to the women interviewed, the mental health services for veterans themselves, preference men over women.
The report’s findings suggested that female veterans have specific mental health needs that require mental healthcare services to take into account the gender-specific experiences they’ve had in their military and veteran lives.
Experiences of gender-related discrimination
Many of the women interviewed noted that they had experienced gender-related discrimination.
and violence during their military service. They further reported that these experiences had a lasting impact on their civilian life and on their mental health.
Additionally, among the barriers italicized by the report that women struggle with in accessing mental health services was a perceptional obstacle, wherein female veterans did not identify with the term “veteran” and felt that the available services were not “for them.”
The women veterans often perceived the services as “for men,” citing male-oriented service branding as an example of why they felt excluded.
The interviewed female veterans emphasized that improving the service branding so that it was inclusive to women was important.
Further, the women veterans wanted the opportunity to access peer support from other women veterans. Having such support would allow them to connect with others who could relate to their experiences in the military.
Another thing that the report noted was important for the participants of the research was the accessibility of trauma-informed care.
They highlighted the value of developing trust in relationships with mental health care professionals, feeling listened to, and having traumatic experiences, that may have been previously dismissed, validated.