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HEALTH / WELL-BEING

British military women: combat exposure, deployment and mental health

August, 2019
Article:

This paper aims to explore the mental health impact of combat exposure among military women.

Abstract

Background Internationally, women are about to undertake combat duties alongside their male colleagues. The psychological effect of this policy change is largely unknown. Aims To explore the mental health impact of combat exposure among military women. Methods Self-report, between-subjects survey data were collected in Iraq and Afghanistan on four occasions between 2009 and 2014 (n = 4139). Differences in mental health, stigmatization, deployment experiences, intimate relationship impact, perception of family support levels, unit cohesion, leadership and help-seeking were compared between deployed men and women. Comparisons were repeated with the study sample stratified by level of combat exposure. Outcomes were examined using logistic regression adjusted for socio-demographic, mental health and military factors. Results Overall, 4.1% of women and 4.3% of men reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (odds ratio (OR) 1.31, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.70–2.46); 22% of women and 16% of men reported symptoms of common mental disorder (CMD) (OR 1.52, 95% CI 1.11–2.08). Women were less likely to report mental health-related stigmatization (OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.53–0.87), negative relationship impact from deployment (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.49–0.98) and subjective unit cohesion (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.53–0.90). Help-seeking for emotional problems was similar by gender (OR 1.22, 95% CI 0.84–1.77). Overall, outcomes were minimally impacted by level of combat exposure. Conclusion Although women experienced more CMD symptoms, PTSD symptoms were similar by gender. Subject to confirmation of the study findings, women may not require enhanced mental healthcare during deployment for exposure-based conditions such as PTSD when undertaking the ground close combat role.

Full Reference

Jones, N., Greenberg, N., Phillips, A., Simms, A. and Wessely, S., 2019. British military women: combat exposure, deployment and mental health. Occupational Medicine. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqz103.

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