Stress and mental disorders in female military personnel: comparisons between the sexes in a male dominated profession

J Psychiatr Res. 2012 Feb;46(2):159-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.09.014. Epub 2011 Oct 22.


The proportion of women in militaries is growing; however, many studies in the area of military mental health have been conducted with majority male samples. The present study examined sex differences in trauma exposure, work stress, and mental disorders in the Canadian Community Health Survey - Canadian Forces Supplement, a representative sample of 5155 regular force personnel and 3286 reservists ages 16-54. Past-year DSM-IV mental disorders (depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, PTSD, and alcohol dependence), lifetime exposure to 28 traumatic events, and work stress were assessed. Regular and reserve female personnel were less likely than males to experience deployment-related traumas, accidents, and several events involving violence (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] range 0.10-0.62). Women were more likely to endorse sexual trauma, partner abuse, and being stalked (AOR range 3.60-13.63). For work stress, regular force women reported higher levels of job demand and stress around social support than men, whereas regular and reserve force women reported less physical exertion. After adjusting for a range of covariates, regular female personnel were more likely than males to have PTSD (AOR 1.88, 99% CI 1.01-3.50), while reservist women were more likely than men to have depression, panic disorder, and any mood or anxiety disorder (AOR range 1.87-6.98). Both regular and reservist women had lower rates of alcohol dependence (AOR range 0.30-0.34). Clinicians working with female personnel should screen for trauma/stressors and mental disorders that are particularly common in this population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Canada
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult