(Reuters Health) – Many female UK military veterans experience sexual trauma, emotional bullying and physical assault during their service that has long-term negative health consequences, a recent study suggests.
Researchers examined data from online surveys completed by 750 female veterans, most of whom were at least 61 years old (63.6%), heterosexual (75.6%), and in a current relationship (63.5%). The goal of the study was to determine the prevalence of a range of adverse experiences in the military and any correlation with current mental health and well-being.
Adverse experiences were common, researchers report in BMJ Military Health. Overall, more than one in five women said they experienced sexual harassment (22.5%) and emotional bullying (22.7%) in the military. Many also experienced sexual (5.1%) and physical (3.3%) assault.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was significantly associated with all these adverse experiences: emotional bullying (odds ratio 2.06), physical assault (OR 4.31), sexual harassment (OR 2.30), and sexual assault (OR 2.73).
“Unfortunately, it is well established that these types of inter-personnel traumas can lead to mental health difficulties and in particular, symptoms of PTSD,” said senior study author Dominic Murphy of the Centre for Military Health Research at King’s College London in the UK.
Emotional bullying was also significantly associated with common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety (OR 1.76), low perceived social support (OR 2.14), and feelings of loneliness (OR 1.75).
Sexual harassment was significantly associated with high physical somatization (OR 2.58).
Sexual assault was significantly associated with harmful alcohol use (OR 2.88).
Younger women as well as women who held officer rank during their military service had a greater likelihood of exposure to adverse experiences than older women and those at other ranks within the military, the study also found.
One limitation of the study is that all exposures and outcomes were self-reported. The sample also skewed older, and it’s unclear if the results would be generalizable to younger women.
In addition, the 44.6% survey uptake rate makes it possible that respondents differ from non-respondents in ways that biased the outcomes.
One of the take-home messages would be to encourage clinicians working with military populations to not only ask about difficult deployment related experiences, but also to ask about experiences of abuse, Murphy said. For those who have suffered abuse during their military careers, it may be important to think about adapting therapy to ensure they feel safe to engage with therapy. It is important to ensure that those struggling with mental health difficulties because of these experiences are offered gold standard treatments.
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3r4CWnS BMJ Military Health, online October 25, 2021.