Medical Technology

Health issues for women who are permanent in the military are linked to trauma

(Reuters Health) – Many female UK military veterans suffer from emotional trauma, sexual harassment and physical assault during their service which can have long-term health effects, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined data from online surveys taken by 750 female veterans, most of whom were 60 years old (63.6%) and heterosexual (75.6 75.6 %) and currently in a relationship (63.5%). The goal of the study was to determine the prevalence of a variety of negative experiences during the military and to determine if there was a correlation with current mental well-being and health.

Researchers report that adverse experiences are common in BMJ Military Health. In total more than one in five women said they had experienced sexual harassment (22.5 percent) and emotional bullying (22.7 percent) in the military. Many were also subject to physical (3.3 percent) and sexual (5.1 percent) assault.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was significantly associated with all these adverse experiences such as emotional bullying (odds ratio 2.06), physical assault (OR 4.31), sexual harassment (OR 2.30), and sexual assault (OR 2.73).

“Unfortunately, it has been widely accepted that these types of injuries to people can cause mental health problems and in particular, symptoms of PTSD,” Dominic Murphy, senior researcher of the study, from the Centre for Military Health Research at King’s College London.

Emotional bullying was also associated with mental disorders that are commonplace, such as anxiety and depression (OR 1.76), low perceived support (OR 2.14), feelings of loneliness (OR 1.55).

Sexual harassment was linked to high physical somatization (OR 2.58).

Sexual assault was strongly associated with harmful drinking (OR 2.88).

The study also showed that younger women and women who received an officer rank in the military had a greater chance of having negative experiences than older women or those in other ranks.

The study had one limitation: all exposures and results were recorded by the participants. The sample also skewed older and it’s not clear whether the results are generalizable to younger women.

Additionally, the 44.6 percent rate of survey participation means that respondents may differ from non-respondents in ways that can bias the outcomes.

One of the key take-home messages would be to encourage clinicians working with military populations to not only ask about difficult deployment related experiences, but also inquire about abuse experiences, Murphy said. For those who have experienced abuse during their military career it is important to consider adapting therapy to ensure they are comfortable in engaging in therapy. It is crucial that those who suffer from mental health issues due to these experiences receive the highest quality treatment.

SOURCE: BMJ Military Health, online October 25, 2021.

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