JOURNAL ARTICLE

Gender differences in the effects of deployment-related stressors and pre-deployment risk factors on the development of PTSD symptoms in National Guard Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan

Melissa A Polusny, Mandy J Kumpula, Laura A Meis, Christopher R Erbes, Paul A Arbisi, Maureen Murdoch, Paul Thuras, Shannon M Kehle-Forbes, Alexandria K Johnson
Journal of Psychiatric Research 2014, 49: 1-9
24290487

OBJECTIVE: Although women in the military are exposed to combat and its aftermath, little is known about whether combat as well as pre-deployment risk/protective factors differentially predict post-deployment PTSD symptoms among women compared to men. The current study assesses the influence of combat-related stressors and pre-deployment risk/protective factors on women's risk of developing PTSD symptoms following deployment relative to men's risk.

METHOD: Participants were 801 US National Guard Soldiers (712 men, 89 women) deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan who completed measures of potential risk/protective factors and PTSD symptoms one month before deployment (Time 1) and measures of deployment-related stressors and PTSD symptoms about 2-3 months after returning from deployment (Time 2).

RESULTS: Men reported greater exposure to combat situations than women, while women reported greater sexual stressors during deployment than men. Exposure to the aftermath of combat (e.g., witnessing injured/dying people) did not differ by gender. At Time 2, women reported more severe PTSD symptoms and higher rates of probable PTSD than did men. Gender remained a predictor of higher PTSD symptoms after accounting for pre-deployment symptoms, prior interpersonal victimization, and combat related stressors. Gender moderated the association between several risk factors (combat-related stressors, prior interpersonal victimization, lack of unit support and pre-deployment concerns about life/family disruptions) and post-deployment PTSD symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: Elevated PTSD symptoms among female service members were not explained simply by gender differences in pre-deployment or deployment-related risk factors. Combat related stressors, prior interpersonal victimization, and pre-deployment concerns about life and family disruptions during deployment were differentially associated with greater post-deployment PTSD symptoms for women than men.

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