Study Finds Military Women, Men Have Similar PTSD Rates

A female soldier cries while another soldier comforts herMilitary women are no more likely than military men to experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD), according to a United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study published in Psychiatric Research.

Previous research has found that women—both in and out of the military—have higher rates of PTSD than men, though that research did not compare men and women with similar experiences. It may be possible that higher rates of PTSD among women are due to greater exposure to traumatic events. Some politicians and service members have pointed to supposedly higher rates of PTSD among women as a reason not to allow women to engage in military combat. The authors of the latest study say their findings support the Department of Defense’s move to include women in combat roles.

PTSD Among Male and Female Soldiers

Researchers pulled data from the Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing study of service member health that includes more than 200,000 participants. They then matched 2,300 pairs of male and female participants—for a total of 4,600 participants—and controlled for similar experiences. Both men and women in the study had similar levels of combat exposure and were followed, on average, for seven years.

None of the participants had PTSD at the beginning of the study, but by the study’s end, the rate of PTSD was 6.7% among women, and 6.1% among men. Though this represents a slightly higher rate of PTSD among women, that difference is not statistically significant. The study’s authors say their work shows that both men and women in the military may need help coping with PTSD. Researchers suggest that those interested in preventing and treating PTSD should focus on the trauma experienced rather than on gender.

Combat Trauma vs. Sexual Trauma

Both military men and women experience trauma. Combat experience is more common among men, but more women report sexual trauma—in both the military and the general population. A 2004 study found that, among military veterans seeking PTSD disability benefits from the VA, 71% of women and 4% of men reported being sexually assaulted.

The Department of Defense maintains an anonymous help and tip line for service members who have experienced rape or another form of sexual assault. Those who need help can access the hotline at 877-995-5247.

References:

  1. Female soldiers at no greater risk for PTSD in new study cohort. (2015, August 28). Retrieved from http://www.science20.com/news_articles/female_soldiers_at_no_greater_risk_for_ptsd_in_new_study_cohort-156943
  2. Millennium Cohort Study. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.millenniumcohort.org/about
  3. Murdoch, M., Polusny, M. A., Hodges, J., & O’brien, N. (2004). Prevalence of in-service and post-service sexual assault among combat and noncombat veterans applying for Department of Veterans Affairs posttraumatic stress disorder disability benefits. Military Medicine,169(5), 392-395. doi:10.7205/milmed.169.5.392
  4. Who is more likely to develop PTSD? Women have more sexual trauma; men have greater combat exposure. (2011, July 14). Retrieved from http://www.usmedicine.com/agencies/department-of-defense-dod/who-is-more-likely-to-develop-ptsd-women-have-more-sexual-trauma-men-have-greater-combat-exposure/
  5. Women soldiers no more likely to develop PTSD, study finds. (2015, August 28). Retrieved from http://consumer.healthday.com/general-health-information-16/military-health-news-763/women-soldiers-no-more-likely-to-develop-ptsd-study-finds-702568.html

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  • Louisa

    Louisa

    September 3rd, 2015 at 1:47 PM

    Funny I always thought that men were lots more likely to have PTSD than women because of the anger tendency that I see in more men. Plus they hold feelings inside and do not process them as much as I think women do. Obviously this is a fallacy in my beliefs

  • Callum

    Callum

    September 4th, 2015 at 7:52 AM

    Such a trying experience for anyone to endure. We also have to be mindful of the fact that this is something that the whole family will go through too, so many times it isn’t just the soldier who needs help afterwards, but the whole family has to get help as well.

  • Levi

    Levi

    September 5th, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    The rates may be the same
    but that does not mean
    that they experience the illness in the same way
    or that they are given referrals for help
    at the same rate

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    September 6th, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    A large part of this could be that for many years women reported higher rates of what was actually going on while men were a lot more hesitant to report. Just a thought

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