portrait of female soldier
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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis that originated with observations of military veterans who saw combat in war. Initially, these unresolved traumatic experiences within the military were thought to be the only causes of PTSD. However, researchers soon discovered similar symptoms amongst survivors of childhood trauma, sexual trauma, trauma from violence, natural disasters, and more. Women in uniform have more opportunities than ever to see combat and face other traumatic experiences while serving in the military or being the partner of someone in the military. Why do women in the military need trauma-informed care?

The Harsh Environment Created By Gender Inequality

Women are at a numerical and physical inequality in the military and are commonly discriminated against based on gender. They face not only the potential for combat-related trauma, but also sexual harassment, threats, and assaults.

Sexual harassment occurs when sexually inappropriate or unwelcome verbal or physical advances are made in either a professional or social situation. This can include but is not limited to catcalls, crude remarks, unwelcome invitations for sexual acts, comments about physique, talking about sexual activities, or spreading false information about sexual activities to others.

Sexual threats in the military include repeated and hostile unwanted advances, physical threats in an attempt to coerce sexual activities, and threats of military discipline as well as being passed up for career advancement in order to force sexual activities.

Sexual assault is any unwanted touching or coerced, forced sexual activity.

This harsh environment and particularly the harassment and assault that is far too common in the military, create traumatic experiences for women that can lead to PTSD.

Fighting on Two Fronts

According to a study that surveyed female war veterans, with nearly 70% of whom had seen combat, 45% experienced at least one instance of sexual harassment or assault during deployment. The study looked at female veterans’ psychosocial functioning after their service related to depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. Sexual harassment and assault created the most significant numbers of PTSD compared to PTSD in other populations. Some women may have also been victims of sexual trauma as a child, and additional trauma increases their risk of developing PTSD. Women in the military who experience sexual harassment or assault are also at significantly higher risk for suicide.

Between the gender inequality and the high instances of sexual harassment and assault, women in the military are fighting on two fronts—protecting their country and protecting themselves from their male counterparts and superiors.

Additional Stressors of Servicewomen, Mothers, and Spouses

Women generally have higher rates of depression than men, and this is also true of women in the military. Women have to manage the physical and emotional stressors of pregnancy and the emotional stressors of being separated from their children or spouses for long periods of time. Many women who have partners or spouses who serve in the military also face abuse and trauma from their servicemen due to the increased stressors that all military personnel face.

Why Substance Abuse Is Common in Women With PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD, including panic attacks, violent or emotional outbursts, flashbacks, and difficulties sleeping, are very difficult to manage. Women often turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, not realizing that they are dangerously compounding an already hazardous situation. Some women may also develop an opioid dependence if they are prescribed pain medications for an injury that occurred while serving.

The Need for Trauma-Informed Care

Treating substance abuse and co-occurring PTSD creates additional challenges. Women with trauma, especially PTSD, need trauma-informed care for their substance abuse treatment to be effective. Women need an environment to heal that provides safety, the ability to choose, trustworthiness, the opportunity to collaborate, and empowerment.

Particularly for women in the military, where they were likely subjected to at least discrimination if not sexual harassment or assault, feeling safe, building trust, and having the opportunity to collaborate instead of being commanded is crucial to healing. Having the opportunity to make choices regarding their recovery helps them feel in control of their life. When women have this supportive environment to heal in, they can empower one another.

Women who have PTSD that corresponds to their interactions with men often feel triggered or unsafe in an environment shared with men. Particularly with the vulnerability that is required to heal from substance abuse, it can often be problematic to enroll in a coed treatment facility. Having served in a male-dominated population, women in the military can thrive in a women-focused treatment program emphasizing trauma-informed care. 

Why do women in the military need trauma-informed care? For women, the gender inequality and trauma from both combat and sexual harassment and assault can lead to PTSD. Women with PTSD need a safe, collaborative, trustworthy environment where they are able to make their own choices and be empowered. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women emphasizes trauma-informed care, especially for women who have served in the military. Our detox and residential treatment facility provides a calm, peaceful, and safe place for women to heal from both trauma and substance abuse. Our dynamic curriculum is based on the principles of trauma-informed care to give you the best chance of success in your recovery. Call us today at (714) 581-3974 to learn more about what trauma-informed care is and how it can help you. Let us help you find your way again by fostering peace and calmness in your mind and body.