She couldn’t tell her family about how her deployment to Afghanistan had changed her — and yes, it had changed her, they all said — serving on a female engagement team there.
“She told one of her sisters about it and said she could take everything but the kids,” said Laurie Martorella, Deana’s mother. “Something about the kids really struck her.”
And keeping it inside haunted her.
“Nobody talks about mental health,” Laurie said. “If you do, you’re weak, you’re on medication, it could affect my future earnings, there could be stigma.”
Deana killed herself at age 28 with a .45 caliber handgun, joining the growing number of military women who are taking their own lives.
Memorial Day is also about these warriors.
This warrior committed suicide on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His suicide note is heartbreaking.
Suicide has been the number one killer of American personnel since the September 11 attacks. More than 30,000 of them have died at their own hands since, in a period that has seen an estimated 7,000 military personnel die in combat or during training exercises, according to a Brown University project.
Suicide in the military community is at its highest rate since 1938, according to a Defense Department report released last month.
Increasingly, those killed are women.
In 2020, they accounted for 7% of military suicides, compared to 4% ten years earlier, according to figures from the Ministry of Defense. About 1 in 6 soldiers is a woman.
The reports break down the deaths by gender, age and branch, but they do little to address the dramatic increase among women.
Deana’s story was featured in 22 Too Many, a project honoring the estimated 22 military suicides that occur every day.
Brandon’s Law is a fast way for service members to find the help they need
Last month, three sailors from the naval aircraft carrier USS George Washington stationed in Norfolk committed suicide in less than a week. One of them was electrician Natasha Huffman.
The very nature of war business does little to deter this mental calamity.
“Women who are in these male-dominated backgrounds in the military are trained to be strong, to push forward,” said Melissa Dichter, an associate professor at Temple University’s School of Social Work, who has released a report this year on female suicide in the military.
So when women are in a mental health crisis, especially PTSD, they go back to the building blocks of basic training and how they defended themselves from letting anyone think they didn’t belong in it. The answer to everything, they learned, was to work harder. So they pushed all the way.
When female veterans try to find support in the civilian world, their stories of war, bodies and bombs are not likely to bond, Dichter found. Support groups, from official meetings at VA to unofficial meetings at VFW, are testosterone festivals.
Dichter analyzed over a million anonymous calls to the Veterans Crisis Line for his report.
About 53% of women who called the line were at risk of suicide, compared to 41% of men, according to his study.
Many had stories of PTSD and battle-related trauma. But Dichter found a key difference: While men were more likely to struggle with substance abuse and substance abuse, most women were calling about an intimate partner or sexual abuse.
That’s what ultimately drove Taniki Richard to attempt suicide: the trauma of the fight and a sexual assault she never reported.
“When I came back from Iraq, I started having nightmares of being raped and then being on the plane,” Chesapeake, Virginia, retired Marine and mom said in a video on Yahoo.
“One day, it became too much. I was under such extreme stress and pain that I just wanted it to end,” she said, so she crashed a car into a lamp post. outside a Marine Corps air base in North Carolina, “attempting to end my life”.
Richard survived. And she went to consult, realizing that her nightmares were not just about the night in Iraq when her helicopter was under fire. She realized that among her fellow warriors – the family that the army has become for her – was her rapist. She now works with the Wounded Warrior Project and tells her story in speeches and podcasts to help other women who have survived assault.
Women in the military struggle with PTSD, isolation, and an experience so common it has its own military acronym — MST, Military Sexual Trauma.
This is a particularly sinister form of abuse. It’s not like a stranger assault or a bad date. Warrior companions are meant to be those who support you in battle. Unity is about supporting each other. Imagine the danger and insecurity any soldier would feel when attacked by their own comrades. This is a common theme among women calling for help.
“In intimate partner sexual violence, women often feel stuck, it’s hard to find a way out, to see a way out,” said Dichter, whose research included interviews with survivors of sexual assault in the army who fight against the duality of the aggressors as colleagues.
Her work shows the military just how deep and scarring their epidemic of sexual assault is.
And how important it is for women leaving the military to find support in the civilian world, whether for MTA, PSTD or both.
It was the platform Deshauna Barber stood on when she swapped her combat boots for stilettos and became Miss USA 2016.
“I want to make sure they have what they need when they come back from deployment,” she said after her win. “I lost a soldier to PTSD, suicide, so I was directly affected by that.”
After clinching the crown, Barber continued that work as CEO of the Service Women’s Action Network, a powerful DC-based group that lobbies on behalf of servicewomen and connects them to support groups.
Deana’s family wants to continue to tell her story, so women like their athletic, energetic, and compassionate daughter know they’re not alone.
They tell his story, say his name, they created a scholarship in his honor.
And this week, they’ll be going to that black granite wall in his hometown of Pennsylvania. Deana’s grandfather’s name is there, she once stood in front, in her navy uniform.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the crisis text line on 741741.