New in Women’s Health Issues: Gender, Rank, and Mental Health in Reservists

Women officers in the US Reserve Component may be at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression when compared to their male and enlisted counterparts. This is among the findings from the Editor’s Choice study in the latest issue of the journal Women’s Health Issues, “Gender, Position of Authority, and the Risk of Depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among a National Sample of U.S. Reserve Component Personnel.”
 
In the study Gregory Cohen, of Columbia University and Boston University, and his colleagues analyzed phone-interview responses from 1,024 members of the US Reserve Component (including from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and National Guard Air Force and Army) who had been deployed. Participants responded to questions about PTSD related to their most recent deployment and depression since their most recent deployment. From these responses, the authors assessed whether the participants met criteria for PTSD and/or depression.
 
When comparing all women to all men, the authors found women had a greater prevalence of PTSD (8.5% in women, 7.5% in men) and a lower prevalence of depression (12.2% in women, 13.7% in men). However, when considering rank, they found women officers were approximately five times more likely than enlisted women to have PTSD symptoms (21% vs 5%). Female officers were also at greatest risk for depression, followed by enlisted men, enlisted women, and male officers.
 
Cohen and his colleagues suggest several potential explanations for their findings, including the possibilities that female officers have different support structures or less organizational control than male officers, or that the challenges associated with Reserve Component service (such as family disruptions during deployment) are especially intense for women holding officer ranks. They caution that the small number of women in the sample who met the criteria for PTSD or depression means these findings should be treated as preliminary and require further investigation. Future research should not only test the findings but determine the causes of this disparity and ways to mitigate it, the authors urge.
 
Women’s Health Issues is the peer-reviewed journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Read online: Gender, Position of Authority, and the Risk of Depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among a National Sample of U.S. Reserve Component Personnel