Women in the U.S. military are no more likely than men to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a government study shows.
“This is the first study to prospectively investigate the development of PTSD in male and female service members who were matched on multiple important characteristics that could explain some of the differences in PTSD, including military sexual trauma,” study co-author Dr. Shira Maguen, a staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, said in a Veterans Affairs news release.
The study included more than 2,300 pairs of women and men who were matched on similarities — including combat experience — and followed for an average of seven years.
No one had PTSD at the start of the study, and all served in Iraq or Afghanistan at least once. By the end of the study, 6.7 percent of women and 6.1 percent of men had developed PTSD, a difference that is not statistically significant.
There was no difference in PTSD severity between men and women, according to the study in the September issue of the journal Psychiatric Research.
“We found no gender differences in the development of PTSD. Consequently, our focus should be on the types of traumatic experiences that people have been exposed to, rather than any inherent gender differences in the development of PTSD,” said Maguen, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can arise after experiencing life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters or personal trauma.
Previous studies on civilians have found that women are at higher risk than men for PTSD. But those studies did not compare women and men with similar experiences.
“I do think military women are extremely resilient, but I think the differences in rates in the civilian literature actually have to do with a number of factors, including women having much higher rates of interpersonal traumas, which we know put people at high risk for PTSD,” Maguen said.
The findings support U.S. Department of Defense efforts to allow women into combat roles, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.