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Systematic Review of Women Veterans' Mental Health

      Abstract

      Background

      Given recent, rapid growth in the field of women veterans' mental health, the goal of this review was to update the status of women veterans' mental health research and to identify current themes in this literature. The scope of this review included women veterans' unique mental health needs, as well as gender differences in veterans' mental health needs.

      Methods

      Database searches were conducted for relevant articles published between January 2008 and July 2011. Searches were supplemented with bibliographic reviews and consultation with subject matter experts.

      Findings

      The database search yielded 375 titles; 32 met inclusion/exclusion criteria. The women veterans' mental health literature crosses over several domains, including prevalence, risk factors, health care utilization, treatment preferences, and access barriers. Studies were generally cross-sectional, descriptive, mixed-gender, and examined Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care users from all service eras. Results indicate higher rates of specific disorders (e.g., depression) and comorbidities, with differing risk factors and associated medical and functional impairment for female compared with male veterans. Although satisfaction with VA health care is generally high, unique barriers to care and indices of treatment satisfaction exist for women.

      Conclusions

      There is a breadth of descriptive knowledge in many content areas of women veterans' mental health; however, the research base examining interventional and longitudinal designs is less developed. Understudied content areas and targets for future research and development include certain psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizophrenia), the effects of deployment on woman veterans' families, and strategies to address treatment access, attrition, and provision of gender-sensitive care.
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      Biography

      Jennifer J. Runnals, PhD, works for the Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research Educational and Clinical Center, Durham, North Carolina, and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Her research interests include trauma, chronic pain, and women's mental health.

      Biography

      Natara Garovoy, PhD, MPH, works in the Women's Counseling Center, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California, and the Mental Health Services, Department of Veteran Affairs, Washington, DC. Her research interests include stress and trauma, gender and women's mental health, and health promotion.

      Biography

      Susan J. McCutcheon, EdD, works for the Office of Mental Health Services in the Department of Veteran Affairs, Washington, DC. Her research interests include women's mental health, military sexual trauma, impact of deployment, and reintegration of families.

      Biography

      Allison T. Robbins, BA, works in the Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research Educational and Clinical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Her research interests include trauma, complex posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic health concerns, and resiliency in families.

      Biography

      Monica C. Mann-Wrobel, PhD, works at the Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research Educational and Clinical Center, Durham, North Carolina, and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Her research interests include complex posttraumatic stress disorder, serious mental illness, third-wave behavioral interventions, couples, and families.

      Biography

      Alyssa Elliott, BA, works for the Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research Educational and Clinical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Her research interests include trauma, interpersonal violence, and resiliency in military families.

      Biography

      Jennifer L. Strauss, PhD, works for the Office of Mental Health Services, Department of Veteran Affairs, Washington, DC, and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Her research interests include women's mental health, trauma, clinical trials, and integrative medicine.