Iranians protest in San Francisco. (Steve Rhodes: Flickr)
California has resettled more Middle Eastern refugees over the past decade than any other state in the U.S. In Northern California, Santa Clara County is a resettlement hub for Middle Eastern refugees — more than 1,300 have moved there since 2006. The majority of these refugees are from Iran and Iraq, and many carry memories of past trauma with them.
Twenty-four year old Iraqi refugee Jasmine said she definitely brought her past memories with her to California. Jasmine (not her real name) and her family fled Iraq in 2006 after insurgents killed her father in a drive-by shooting. She said they escaped to Syria, then resettled in San Jose three years later.
“You left your home. You left the place that you belong to. Your people who loved there,” Jasmine said. “Sometimes I feel like everything for me after Iraq is different: the roads, the air, the dust. I know back home. The dust of back home. I know the air of back home.”
“What happened will remain like a scar inside yourself. Especially like we saw a lot of stuff not normal … Like people killed in front of your eye. I don’t believe I’m going to forget them.”
Jasmine said she was in survival mode in Iraq and experienced a delayed reaction to the stress of war. But when she did land in America, depression hit Jasmine hard.
The need for mental health services among veterans has increased 35% since 2007. (Getty Images)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will add 1,600 mental health clinicians and 300 support staff to veterans hospitals across the country to help contend with the rising demand for mental health care among returning veterans. That’s an almost 10% increase in mental health staff and is sorely needed at hospitals that can’t keep up with the requests for appointments. In some places, wait time for care is much longer than the VA’s 14 day policy, the subject of a report by the department’s inspector general to be released next week.
Northern California may be faring slightly better than the rest of the country on mental health issues. “In Northern California we have many veterans coming back. We also have a lot of staff,” said Robin Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System. “We’ve tripled our mental health staff in the last 4 years. So we many be ahead of the curve,” she added. Jackson said that staff in Northern California realized that traumatic brain injury and other mental trauma would be the most common illnesses in returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, so they ramped up their staffing to meet the need. Continue reading
UCSF helped create a theater workshop for HIV-positive women suffering from PTSD and other forms of trauma. From left to right: theater participant Cassandra Steptoe, UCSF Professor Edward Machtinger & Rhodessa Jones of the theater group Cultural Odyssey. (Photo: UCSF).
Scientists know that women who have been traumatized or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to be at risk for HIV.
Now two new studies published in the journal AIDS and Behavior show that HIV-positive women suffer disproportionately high rates of trauma and PTSD. In a vicious circle, the high rates of trauma lead to increased risk of further spreading the illness.
In the first study researchers at U.C. San Francisco and Harvard Medical School looked at nearly 6,000 HIV-positive women. They found HIV-positive women were twice as likely to experience violence from their partner and five times more likely to suffer from PTSD than the national average.
In the second smaller study of 113 HIV-positive women, researchers reported that women experiencing ongoing trauma were about four times more likely both to have unsafe sex and to fail taking antiretroviral medications correctly.
That combination of skipping medication and unsafe sex leads to alarming public health consequences, says lead author Edward Machtinger, who directs UCSF’s Women’s HIV Program. He said if a woman isn’t taking HIV medications properly, she is more infectious.
“Our hope is that screening for trauma and intervening for trauma becomes a required aspect of the care for all women with HIV.”
“And if that person is having unprotected sex with HIV-negative partners,” Machtinger told me, “that is a situation that predisposes further transmission more than any other. The conclusion that we come to is that trauma fuels all aspects of the HIV epidemic among women.”
Veterans with PTSD are more likely than other vets to be prescribed opioid drugs for pain relief. (Photo: Jupiter Images)
Across the country, there’s been a greater understanding of treating pain. The prescription of opioid pain relievers–drugs like codeine, vicodin or morphine–has nearly doubled since 1994. But at the same time, prescription opioid abuse, overdose and death has also increased dramatically. The same trends are true for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Today, due to medical advances and improvements in combat protective gear, higher numbers of veterans of these wars are surviving injuries. But once home, they continue to suffer both pain and mental health problems. They are often prescribed opioid pain relievers.
But little has been known about mental health disorders and the prescribing of opioids to veterans. Researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and UCSF set out to address this question and found that veterans with mental health problems were more likely to be prescribed opioid drugs than veterans without mental health issues. Continue reading
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a major issue for female soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Chris Hondros: Getty Images)
The number of women in the military has doubled in the past decade. According to the Pentagon, about 10 percent of the 2.2 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been women.
These women are more likely to be in the line of fire than those serving in previous wars — and that means they’re also at a higher risk of having depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) wanted to see if gender played a role in mental health outcomes after soldiers were exposed to combat-related trauma. In a recent study, researchers looked at 7,251 veteran responses to different kinds of combat exposure: witnessing killing, sexual trauma, killing in war, and injury. They found that PTSD rates are the same among male and female vets of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, with about 18 percent of both groups screening positive for the disorder.
While both male and female vets had equal chances of having PTSD after exposure to killing, sexual trauma, or witnessing killing, women vets who were injured were more likely to have PTSD than men.
The study also found that while female veterans were more likely to suffer from depression, their male counterparts were more likely to abuse alcohol.