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Being a female Veteran

Kirsty, our Senior Veteran Wellbeing advisor at PositiveMinds, tells us why she wanted to work in Veteran's mental health and wellbeing.

I’m Kirsty, a professional, single parent, daughter, sister and a Veteran. 

The term Veteran, or soldier, typically evokes a male image. Many people don’t associate women with the word Veteran, even female Veterans themselves don’t identify with the term. When females leave the service, they are faced with a slew of challenges as they try to integrate into civilian life. Women have been present and serving in wars since the beginning, yet historically women are typically unknown to the public for their dedication to the service and their county. As the projection of the female veteran population increases, it is important to raise awareness and consider what changes may be needed to better suit their needs. 

When it comes to thinking about what a Veteran is, female identity seems to be lost. 

The ratio of men v women has always been disproportionate, and this appears to be a continuing theme in Veterans seeking support. Female Veterans are much more likely to seek support from their G.P and non-veteran providers. I once attended a Veteran specific drop-in session which was recommended by a work colleague whose husband had served, I attended the venue and was asked by a male worker if I was there to pick up a husband or partner. I left and never went back. 

What many don’t realise is that Female Veterans may appear to look like civilian women, they may have a similar skill set and the same opportunities, however many veteran females find it extremely challenging to fit into the work place and into civilian society in general. Some of the behaviours and habits that they used to help them fit in during military service are now the things that make Veteran women stand out. Females struggle to let go of the identity that they developed in service life and have difficulty adapting to and assuming the traditional gender roles. Many female veterans continue to judge themselves by the same standards that were set during service and these are no longer necessary or at times attainable.

Overall, many female veterans feel that the general public do not understand or recognise their service. This perceived invalidation of a female’s service can feel as if her experiences during or related to her service, to include combat, service-related disability, sexual assault or harassment are also not acknowledged or considered. 

Without a uniform or badge there is no indication that you are a Veteran, many women are told “you are too pretty” or “too feminine” to ever believe that she could have served in the armed forces. 

Inside and outside of the military, there’s the idea that PTSD and military related mental health conditions are mostly experienced by men. Because men are the only ones who engaged in combat or witnessed and experienced traumatic events. Someone who doesn’t know better hears about a male soldier struggling with nightmares and low mood and thinks, of course! But if a young woman mentioned they were experiencing the same symptoms, they are often faced with a barrage of questions: What did you do that was so hard? What did you see? Are you sure that you are really depressed or are you just having a bad day? Are you overreacting? 

The knowledge that asking for help might make women seem weak and single them out as “over-sensitive” has kept many female veterans quiet — even when they are in crisis female Veterans tend not to seek out the support of Veterans services.

Understanding military culture is crucial to providing effective support to Veterans. Acknowledging that the military is not a job, it’s a way of life and including female veterans in the conversation around improving Veteran health care is essential. There is most definitely a need for further research which could offer more examples of barriers preventing females accessing Veteran services. By identifying the issues, more solutions can be created. 

Here at Positive Minds all Veterans matter to us and if we can better support Female Veterans then we are already bridging the gap and making the term “Veteran” feel more inclusive to all those who have served. It's hugely important to me that all Veterans but especially female veterans feel that they can access the support and guidance that wasn’t available to me when I was in need.

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