Sex differences in predictors of recurrent major depression among current-era military veterans

Psychol Serv. 2021 May;18(2):275-284. doi: 10.1037/ser0000397. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Although major depressive disorder (MDD) is a frequent diagnosis among women seeking care in the Veterans Health Administration, little is known about its course. For example, recurrence of MDD and its predictors have been investigated in civilians, but not among female veterans. Because female veterans differ from their civilian counterparts and from male veterans on demographic variables, including race, ethnicity, marital status, and educational level, it is important to identify factors affecting MDD course within this population. We investigated frequency and correlates of recurrent MDD among female veterans and their male counterparts. From a postdeployment research registry of 3,247 participants (660 women and 2,587 men), we selected those with a current episode of MDD (141 women and 462 men). For each sex, we compared those diagnosed with recurrent MDD with those experiencing a single episode on demographics, comorbid diagnoses, family history of mental illness, traumatic experiences, combat exposure, and social support. In contrast to findings in most civilian samples, recurrent MDD was significantly more frequent in female (70.2%) than in male (45.2%) depressed veterans, χ²(1) = 26.96, p < .001. In multivariable analyses, recurrence among women was associated with greater experiences of childhood abuse and more trauma during military service and with lower rates of posttraumatic stress disorder. Among men, recurrence was associated with older age, family history of psychiatric hospitalization, more postmilitary trauma, and lifetime anxiety disorder and with lower likelihood of war zone deployment. Trauma was associated with recurrence in both sexes, but the features of traumatic events differed in women and men. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Child
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Veterans*