Post-traumatic stress disorder and women

Originally posted at the AWEARNESS blog

Warning: This involves a bit of a spoiler of the movie "Brothers"

Jim Sheridan's latest film "Brothers" gives post-traumatic stress disorder a higher profile this holiday season with an amazing performance by Tobey Maguire. The movie depicts Maguire as a Marine who is shot down in Afghanistan, held prisoner, and then returns home after being declared dead. Maguire's character returns to a home where his wife and daughters have tried to move on -- with the help of his brother. Suspicion runs high, fueled by his PTSD and guilt, that his wife and brother are now lovers. The movie ends in an emotional crescendo that is worthy of all the actors and rather than leave us totally depressed over the situation, gives us a bit of hope.

I clung to that hope at the end of the film a bit fiercely, perhaps because it seems that while PTSD gets a lot of attention in the media, we still read stories of veterans becoming homeless and/or addicted to drugs due to their inability to find help recovering/dealing with PTSD.

Yet as we are bringing PTSD out of the shadows for veterans, we are still behind on how to deal with PTSD when it comes to women.

In the January 2010 issue of Marie Claire Jennifer Crane tells her PTSD story to Lynn Harris. In it she describes the nightmares and the drugs, but what really struck me was how the VA hospital she went to for help kicked her out saying "the treatment wasn't really helping [her] - although [she] disagreed - that as one of only two women in the group, [she] was distracting to the male patients, who apparently found [her] attractive." Jennifer begged to stay to no avail and with nowhere else to turn, found herself at her drug dealer's home. There is a happy ending... Jennifer was able to kick her habit and now has a small child. Still, the happy ending in no way justifies the unjust treatment Jennifer received because of her gender and physical appearance.

Considering that women currently make up 15% of the military and 1 in 10 of our troops in Iraq, the amount of PTSD we will see in women coming home will only increase. Yes, including women in the military will create new issues, as we are seeing with pregnancy, but let's address the issues, not blame women. Women are a vital and important part of our military, and we cannot send them home without proper treatment.