Gender Bias, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Play Major Role in Poor Mental Health of Military Women, SWAN Report Finds

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Lack of gender-specific services remains a barrier to accessing mental wellness care for service women

Service women are struggling with their mental health both while in the military and after they leave service and gender bias, sexual harassment and sexual assault during military service is significantly contributing to their plight, according to a report released today by the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN).

"The Mental Wellness Needs of Military Women: Community Driven Solutions," SWAN's 2018 annual research report, underscores the gender-specific way service women's military service affects their mental health; 49 percent of women surveyed in the report said gender bias, sexual harassment or sexual assault during military service was behind their negative mental wellness outcomes. The findings come amid rising concern over military women's mental health after the Department of Veterans Affairs released data last September showing women veterans have a 250 percent higher suicide rate than women who have never served.

"Over the last six months, there have been a number of reports released that support the troubling findings of SWAN’s report: that women in the military are suffering from invisible wounds at very high numbers," said Lydia C. Watts, SWAN CEO. "What SWAN’s report clearly shows is that the greatest contributing factors to service women’s negative mental health outcomes are their experiences with gender bias, sexual harassment and sexual assault while serving. This can be rectified with a wholesale culture change that creates a military environment that respects and recognizes women as essential contributors to a strong military force."

The report analyzes data from a national survey of about 1,300 service women and women veterans, and from focus groups of military women facilitated by an advisory committee of ten researchers and experts from universities across the country, who gathered in D.C. in November during SWAN's second annual summit.

The report finds that 61 percent of service women and women veterans surveyed by SWAN reported being clinically diagnosed with depression and that 20 percent admitted to having intentionally harmed themselves.

Additionally, the report finds that service women still face structural barriers to accessing care, notably a lack of gender-specific mental wellness care from providers who lack knowledge of military women's unique experiences and needs. These barriers compound service women's negative mental wellness outcomes, according to the report.

The report also offers a unique insight into service women's struggle with resiliency, finding that the concept of resiliency is not well understood and often mistaken as 'toughing it out' instead of finding a true resolution to stressors that affect their mental wellness.

The report makes key policy recommendations, based on solutions identified by service women themselves, for the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans and Military Service Organizations:

  • Develop women-specific transition and demobilization services tailored to meet military women’s specific needs.
  • Provide gender-specific mental wellness assessments with feedback and recommended care options during transition and demobilization activities.
  • Increase access to appropriately trained counselors and therapists in DoD and the VA who are trained in how to handle cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
  • Provide funding for alternative therapies like meditation, yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, etc. Many military women pay out-of-pocket costs for therapies that they find to be more effective than traditional approaches which rely almost solely on counseling and medication.
  • Establish social support groups and networks for military women.
  • Improve access to resources via a single, cross community resource site.

The full report is available at the SWAN website:


The author of the report is available for interviews.
Media Contact: Toni Rico, Phone: (202) 798-5570 ext. 22. Email: antonieta(at)servicewomen(dot)org

About the Service Women's Action Network
SWAN is a national, nonpartisan civil rights organization and member-driven community network advocating for the individual and collective needs of service women. To date, SWAN has played a major role in opening all military jobs to service women, holding sex offenders accountable in the military justice system, eliminating barriers to disability claims for those who have experienced military sexual trauma, and expanding access to services for a broad range of reproductive healthcare services for service women.

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Antonieta Rico

Antonieta Rico
since: 05/2009
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