Women’s Mental Health Research

The Department of Defense funds research to support female service members’ physical and psychological well-being. Find below a brief overview of some key studies relevant to female service members funded by the Military Operational Medicine Research Program. Given the specific objectives and timelines of the studies, the final study results may not be published for several years.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Begun in 2001, this is the largest longitudinal health study in military history. A total of 61,794 female service members (30.6%; N=201,619) were enrolled in each of the four panels (2001, 2004, 2007, 2011). Psychological studies focus on prior lifetime assault and PTSD, depression, and anxiety; the impact of sexual trauma; maternal depression; disordered eating; and headache disorders. Findings to date include:

  • Women reporting sexual assault while in the military had nearly twice the risk of relapse to unhealthy alcohol use, and women reporting sexual harassment or assault were twice as likely to report poorer mental health.
  • No gender differences were found for the likelihood of developing PTSD among combat and non-combat deployed service members.

Millennium Cohort Family Study. Designed to understand the composition and evaluate the health of military families. Of the 9,872 opposite-sex couples enrolled:  

  • 13 percent of the study couples are female service members with a male spouse.
  • 87 percent of the study couples are male service members with a female spouse; 1,015 (10 percent) of the female spouses served in the military.
  • 18 percent of the study couples are dual military couples.

The Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP). Eleven studies seek to expand the depth and breadth of clinical trials research to determine the most efficacious cognitive-behavioral and novel biomedical treatments for PTSD and related conditions in male and female service members and veterans. Collateral studies will focus on detection, prevention, epidemiology, neurobiology, and genetics to inform the development of new models and novel treatments for PTSD.

Brief Treatment for PTSD: Enhancing Treatment Engagement and Retention. An investigation to determine if written exposure therapy, a brief treatment approach for PTSD, is equally as effective as cognitive processing therapy. The researchers are comparing retention and patient satisfaction between the two therapies and data will be collated to address gender-specific findings if relevant.

Effects of Interpersonal Challenges, Social Support, and Transitions on the Mental Health and Readiness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) Military Personnel. A longitudinal qualitative and quantitative study to gain an understanding of interpersonal challenges and support experienced by lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual military personnel compared to heterosexual personnel. Military transitions and readiness are of particular interest to the researchers.

U.S. Air Force’s Enhanced Access, Acknowledge, Act Program (EAAA). To increase female Air Force cadets’ resilience and knowledge about sexual assault, all incoming female cadets complete a 12-hour EAAA program. Baseline surveys, surveys at the completion of the course, and follow-up surveys will be analyzed to evaluate cadets’ ability to detect the risk of sexual assault by male acquaintances; cadets’ efficacy in being able to defend themselves if confronted with a sexual assault situation; and cadets’ beliefs in rape myths that may impair recovery from sexual assault.

Combat, Sexual Assault, and Post-traumatic Stress in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) Military Women. The cross-sectional study seeks to identify organizational, situational, and individual risk factors for physical and sexual assault in women who were active duty members in OIF/OEF by deployment status (deployed to combat-related areas once; deployed to combat-related regions more than once, deployed to non-combat related areas outside of the U.S., or never deployed outside of the U.S.). One hundred female military academy trained officers are included in the sample to study unique officer risk and resiliency factors (N=664). The study will also examine associations between physical and sexual assault during OEF/OIF and current physical and mental health status; identify barriers to DoD, VA and other civilian health services in relationship to women’s deployment and survivor status; and identify and describe differences regarding female survivorship in content, attitudes, and experience.

The Psychological Health Center of Excellence conducted a refresh of the Integrated Mental Health Strategy (IMHS), Strategic Action #28 Task Group’s summary literature review (2013). [ Reference 1 ] Find a summary of the literature review refresh (2010-2016) on the IMHS Literature Review page.

Find additional information on psychological health treatment findings in our Psych Health Evidence Briefs.

Find additional information on identifying and promoting evidence-based psychological health practices in our systematic reviews.

References

  1. VA/DoD Integrated Mental Health Strategy Strategic Action 28 Task Group. (2013). Summary Report of a Systematic Literature Review: Female Mental Health Needs and Military Sexual Trauma, Assault, and Harassment among Military Service Members and Veterans of Both Genders.