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The factors behind alarming suicide rate among women veterans

Posted at 8:11 AM, Jan 15, 2020

PUEBLO — When you think of the faces of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, usually our brave men in uniform come to mind. However, one group in the military we often forget is women.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs says the suicide rate among women veterans is double that of women who don't serve.

A local veteran and professor spoke to News5 about what factors are contributing to this startling reality.

"Being in the military, we have to be strong because we are around men," Christine Guthmiller said. "We're trying to prove ourselves, and I think it's a stigma."

Guthmiller is a veteran and a financial coordinator at the Veterans Resource Center at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

According to the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate is higher among women who report military sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual discrimination and harassment-- all factors that can contribute to PTSD.

Guthmiller talked about her struggles with PTSD after she got home from deployment. She says it's a very isolating feeling.

"I would feel alone, it's nerve racking, and little things would make me nervous," Guthmiller said. "It's a really hard thing to explain."

David McFadden, a social work professor at CSU Pueblo, says it's harder for women to serve because an old stereotype that the idea women are weaker than men still prevails.

"It's twice as hard for them," McFadden said. "They have to overcome stereotypes, and for them to receive services, it proves that stereotype."

McFadden is also a combat veteran. He teaches social work, including a class called "Understanding Suicide" at the Pueblo campus. McFadden says our society's attitude toward suicide is changing, but we still have a ways to go.

"I think [suicide] is a subject that's becoming more open," McFadden said. "We hear a lot about stars and celebrities committing suicide in the media, so I think it's a subject that we are definitely taking seriously and opening a dialogue helps."

Guthmiller has a simple message of hope for wounded women warriors.

"Take it one day at a time," Guthmiller said. "Everyday is a new day and there is help out there."

If you or someone you know needs help, here are some hotlines you can reach out to:

  • The National Veterans Affairs Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • El Paso County Veterans Affairs Services: 719-520-7750
  • Pueblo Veterans Affairs Clinic: 719-553-1000

McFadden and Guthmiller said civilians may never understand what men and women in uniform go through, but that's why pointing out the proper resources is so important.