Yalies combat trauma

When it comes to life after the battlefield, men and women are not the same.

Dr. Rani Desai, associate psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine and principal investigator for the study, is working with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to examine gender differences in the post-deployment lives of returning combat veterans. The study will investigate the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, and other kinds of addictions — like eating disorders, shopping habits, and compulsive video game playing — in both women and men through national telephone interviews, Desai said.

Desai’s study will conduct telephone interviews, each lasting more than an hour, with approximately 15,000 veterans from around the United States. The interviews will be conducted by a national call center in New York, said Desai, who added that she does not expect to have any conclusive data for another four or five years.

“It will take us several years just to recruit the sample and another several years to do all the interviews,” she said.

The national investigation started in October after the Grace J. Fippinger Foundation awarded a $15,000 pilot grant to Women’s Health Research in 2009. Eileen Hynes, executive director of the Fippinger Foundation, said her organization chose to fund Desai’s research because she said she felt it was “cutting edge.”

“It’s the first time that we as a nation are sending women into combat,” Hynes said. “That is really why [we funded the study]. There must be difficulties in coming back; we should look at them.”

Desai said her study will be the most comprehensive, empirical study on gender differences between the post-war lives of male and female veterans conducted thus far. Of the two million U.S. soldiers deployed since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 230,000 have been women, an unprecedented number of American military women exposed to combat so far according to the National Public Radio.

“This is the largest cohort of female combat veterans that we’ve ever had,” Desai said. “[Although] all the evidence seems to indicate that they’re performing equally well in the military, there are a number of reasons indicating that women may have a number of difficulties coming back.”

The Department of Veteran Affairs cited increased likelihood of sexual assault and anxiety disorders as possible difficulties facing female veterans returning home.

But war veterans are not the only people affected by PTSD.

“Sexual abuse is also a frequent trigger for PTSD,” Yale psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema said, adding that witnessing a death or family member get seriously injured could also induce PTSD.

At Yale, some students develop PTSD after recovering from a serious car accident, Yale Health chief psychiatrist Lorraine Siggins said in an e-mail. She said that although there are a number of students affected by PTSD each year, she said she could not say exactly how many.

PTSD should not be Yalies’ prime concern though, Desai said, “unless [they] think being an undergrad at Yale is kinda like being in combat.”

Desai is also the director of the Women and Trauma research core of Women’s Health Research at Yale

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