Health Services Research & Development

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2007 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

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National Meeting 2007

3069 — Gender Differences in Predeployment Stressors and Mental Health

Polusny MA (Minneapolis VA Medical Center) , Erbes CR (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Murdoch M (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Arbisi PA (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Seifert A (Minneapolis VA Medical Center), Kehle S (Minneapolis VA Medical Center)

Role-conflict theory generally assumes that female National Guard troops will experience more stress prior to deployment than male troops, because women must leave their children and make alternative arrangements for childcare while they are deployed. The objective of this study is to examine this assumption in a cohort of 533 National Guard soldiers one month prior to deployment to OIF. We also examined other gender differences in identified predeployment stressors, unit support, and perceptions of military readiness.

Cross-sectional survey using validated survey instruments including subscales from the Deployment Risk and Resiliency Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory-II, PTSD Checklist, and Quantity-Frequency measure of alcohol use. Measures were collected from soldiers one month prior to their deployment to OIF.

To our surprise, there were no gender differences in family concerns when we compared male and female soldiers who were parents of at least one child. Overall, women (M = 32.25, SD = 7.22) reported lower perception of military readiness for deployment to OIF compared to men (M = 34.71, SD = 7.37); t(1, 511) = 2.43, p = .01. Women also reported lower levels of unit support (M = 37.86, SD = 9.98) than their male counterparts (M = 40.90, SD = 9.98); t(1, 505) = 2.17, p = .03. While a substantial proportion of women and men reported exposure to potentially traumatic stressors prior to deployment to OIF, men were more likely to report a history of being physically assaulted (62.9% vs. 43.3% for women) and women were significantly more likely to report a history of childhood sexual assault (23.3% vs. 5.9% for men) and adult sexual victimization (36.7% vs. 1.7% for men). Severity of pre-deployment PTSD symptoms did not differ by gender, but women reported more severe depressive symptoms (M = 9.53, SD = 7.13) than men (M = 5.56, SD = 6.55); t(1, 512) = 4.70, p = .0001; and men consumed more alcohol (p > .0001). However, few National Guard soldiers of either gender reported clinically significant distress levels prior to deployment.

Overall, we found no gender differences in soldiers’ family concerns prior to their deployment to OIF. Male soldiers with children reported being just as concerned about the impact of their deployment on family as did female soldiers with children. Women endorse lower perception of military preparedness and less unit support and greater depressive symptoms prior to deployment, all of which may be risk factors for post-deployment outcomes.

Female deployed troops may need greater assistance with deployment readiness. Gender differences in pre-deployment trauma exposure and depressive symptomatology may be risk factors for later outcomes.