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Gender differences are clear when it comes to military veterans seeking and accessing mental health assistance because of the stigma of seeking such help, according to a study published online in the journal BMJ Military Health.
Although only a minority of both male and female veterans have access to support, women appear to overcome additional barriers in seeking help, such as negative gender stereotypes and a lack of recognition of their veteran status.
In the UK, barriers to access to mental health services for veterans are well understood. Examples include the shortage of military health professionals and the expected stigma associated with mental health.
However, the majority of these studies were male participants, so our understanding of the barriers to entry for female veterans is limited.
Although small, the number of female military veterans in the UK is increasing, with over 1,000 women leaving the military every year.
Therefore, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK set out to examine and understand gender differences in barriers that might prevent female veterans from gaining access to psychiatric support.
For the study, 100 participants (43 women and 57 men) conducted an online open-ended survey of British Forces veterans who were identified as having post-military mental health problems.
The participants completed a 30-point scale “barriers to access to care assessment” and were asked to explain these in more detail.
All participants were over 31 years of age, all British nationals and most were White British. Both women and men had served in the army most often, were not assigned when they were discharged, and had left the service over 10 years ago.
The results showed that overall a minority of female and male veterans had received mental support / treatment while on duty (30% of women and 26% of men), but most had received support / treatment since discharge (79% and 72%, respectively) %) or).
Of the 75 people who had received assistance / treatment since they were discharged, around a fifth of both female and male veterans had taken more than 15 years to seek help after discharge.
The type of treatment varied between the sexes, with women significantly more likely than men to report access to standard NHS services.
The results showed that of those who had received assistance / treatment since their discharge, the majority of female veterans reported accessing non-veteran-specific NHS services (61%), while only 19% had access to dedicated veteran charities / Third sector organizations.
Male veterans were most likely to report accessing either general NHS services (33%) or specialist veteran charities / third sector organizations (32%).
The researchers said this could be due to the fact that general NHS services had recognized the need for gender-based services and could therefore be seen as better suited to meeting women’s needs than veteran-specific mental health services.
In addition, it was also possible that female veterans did not identify with the term “veteran” and therefore did not deal with veteran-specific services.
Leaving gender aside, only a small fraction of both genders have access to NHS veteran-specific mental health services (women 21% and men 14%), suggesting that more research is needed to determine if NHS veterans are in place or non-specific services were effectively engaged and met the mental health needs of veterans.
Analysis of the comments on obstacles to long-term care revealed a distinction between male and female responses.
Male veterans described the effects of “male psychology,” with perceived masculinity at odds with seeking help and acceptance of mental health needs, while female veterans reported lack of understanding and negative stereotypes about women’s mental health that led to it that they felt that their care needs were not being taken seriously.
In addition, women identified some gender barriers to seeking help related to their military service, with some speaking of an increased desire to demonstrate their strength through gender degradation and weakness in the armed forces, and others of misunderstanding and lack of recognition reported by women as personnel in the armed forces.
The authors acknowledge that this pilot study involved only a relatively small sample of people and was not representative of the broader veteran population.
However, they conclude: “While the UK Department of Defense is making efforts to remove barriers to psychiatric care for those still in the armed forces, it has been more difficult to provide similar levels of support to the veteran population.”
They add, “Given that little veteran research focuses on the specific experiences of women, this study suggests that female veterans encounter specific barriers to entry and gender-specific issues. Further research is therefore needed to ensure that these findings are taken into account.”
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Gender Differences in Barriers to Mental Health Care for British Military Veterans: A Preliminary Research, BMJ Military Health, DOI: 10.1136 / bmjmilitary-2020-001754 Provided by the British Medical Journal
Quote: Female military veterans face additional barriers to accessing mental health support (2021, April 26), released on April 27, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-female-military-veterans- additional-barriers.html
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