Women in novel occupational roles: mental health trends in the UK Armed Forces

December, 2006

This paper explores changes in psychological symptoms in military women following deployment.


Background: There is uncertainty about whether women in the military have more psychological symptoms than men and whether psychological symptoms have increased over time. The aims of this study were to assess changes in psychological symptoms in military women over time, to compare them with men, and assess the effect of deployment. Methods: Two cross-sectional studies based on random samples of the Armed Forces were used to assess the effects of deployment to the Gulf and Iraq Wars. We selected for the analyses all the women and a 20% random sample of men who completed a questionnaire stratified by rank. We assessed psychological distress, number of symptoms, post-traumatic stress reaction (PTSR), chronic fatigue and alcohol misuse. Results: There has been an increase in psychological symptoms, including alcohol misuse, in those not deployed to the Gulf or Iraq Wars, especially in women. The odds ratios for PTSR [5.82 (95% CI: 1.27–26.71)], multiple symptoms [8.49 (1.97–36.65)] and alcohol misuse [6.20 (2.09–18.37)] were higher in women than in men in the non-deployed samples. Psychological distress and chronic fatigue was more common in women, and alcohol misuse, was more common in men. In women, psychological symptoms were positively associated with deployment in the Gulf War, but not the Iraq War. Conclusion: Psychological symptoms in the Armed Forces have increased over time regardless of gender, in those not deployed. The association between gender and psychological symptoms has not changed over time. The deployment effect in women is similar to that described in men.

Full Reference

Rona, R. J., Fear, N. T., Hull, L. and Wessely, S., 2006. Women in novel occupational roles: mental health trends in the UK Armed Forces. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36(2), pp. 319-326. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyl273.

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