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Sexual trauma hikes PTSD risk

Friday, November 21st, 2008

In recent years, post traumatic stress disorder has gained recognition as a risk linked to military service, but mental health providers say emerging research combat is not the only military experience that can lead to PTSD.


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A recent review of the medical records of veterans who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that veterans who reported experience with sexual trauma were three times as likely to have a diagnosis of mental illness, compared to others.

Psychiatrist Jyoti Shah says some war stories are hard to tell, particularly rape and sexual harassment.

Shah:Unfortunately there is a lot of iffy issues in their mind about what they can talk [about] and what they can’t talk [about].

Before retiring, Shah was chief of psychiatry at the VA in Wilkes Barre, where she says many times women sat in her office crying as they remembered an assault. But when Shah looked into the veteran’s past medical records, the details of the incident often were not reflected there.

Earlier this year, a report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that the number of sexual assaults among military service people likely outstrips the number reported.

Veteran Christine Geist is a University of Scranton graduate student, who studies post-traumatic stress disorder. She says male and female veterans worry about career consequences when they seek help for mental health problems, but she says women face an extra hurdle in a male-dominated field.

Geist: So we are going to be the last ones to say, yeah, I have an issue with this because we fought so hard to get into the service. We fought years of that institution saying women can’t be here. Now you are here and there’s things going on. Oh, no — not saying a word.

The government accountability report found that fears about “ridicule” “gossip” and hurting “unit morale” discouraged troops from reporting sexual assault. In Wilkes Barre, Dr. Shah led therapy groups for women who’d experienced sexual trauma, and she says it took lots of time and reassurance before veterans felt at ease to share their stories.

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