Miss Public Health and Female Suicide

Today was another instance of starting a conversation with someone I see every day yet have never talked to.  Again as always, all it took was for me to simply start the conversation, the rest was listening and asking questions.

She started her career as a fashion designer, making dresses primarily.  Then drastically she shifted to the health field by getting a Masters in Public Health (M.P.H.).  Now instead of designing articles of clothing, she designs databases for public health projects.  She told me stories of when she worked for the U.S. Military as a public health researcher studying injuries.  I asked what the most common injury was (assuming it was stress fractures) and she mentioned that knees and back were the most problematic.  She said that people would assume that stress fractures were a major injury in the U.S. military, however in reality, the injuries usually come from  twisted knees and strained backs.  These injuries became such a huge financial burden to the U.S. taxpayer that the Military actually redesigned the basic training program to address a lot of these knee and back issues.  In her opinion the military did a great job at revamping the basic training based off the recommendations from her research group.

Basic training won't do you any good if everyone ends up in one of these. Props to the military for changing it up to reduce injuries.

She said that studying injuries from a military/public health perspective was interesting but it was really the suicide issue that was the most gripping for her.  I found it interesting to learn that soldier suicide was the highest not before or after deployment but rather during it.  In my mind I would have assumed that getting back from a deployment was the most likely time for potential soldier suicide.  Apparently this isn’t the case.  A vast majority of suicides actually happen while on a deployment.  Also, was surprised to learn that in the general population, suicide rates for women are relatively low as compared to the suicide rates of men.  I’m not sure why I assumed this, it’s probably just the gender biases engrained into my brain by society or rather “the man”.

Despite women having lower suicide rates (in the general population) than men, the rates of suicide for female soldiers skyrocket much above that of male soldiers during military deployments.  The rates for women are much lower before or after deployment (similar to the general population) but it’s DURING deployment that the rates skyrocket above men.  Why is that?  Miss Public Health felt that this is largely due to issues like the fact that 70% of female soldiers report being raped or sexually assaulted while on deployment.  It’s a huge problem that seems to be largely unaddressed in the media.   You hear a lot in the news about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” but I’ve never heard about sexual assaults in the news.  What happens to all of these men who are accused of sexual assault?  Are they even accused at all?

Anyway, this was definitely an interesting talk at 7:30am on a Friday morning.  Miss Public Health was very friendly, easy to talk to, and was very engaged in our conversation.  Unlike many of the other people I’ve spoken to on the train, she asked me a lot about my life, my work, and what makes me tick.  Normally people just prefer to talk about themselves.  I’m definitely guilty of that and this month’s challenge has really forced me to become a good listener and to put my own stories on the sideline (also, I can just blog about my story which in turn fuels the need I have to talk about myself :), so I find that I don’t need to do it on the train).  It’s amazing how someone can think you’re such a great listener if you just keep asking them questions.  I suppose that’s a good life skill to develop, I’m getting better but I still need some work.

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