Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder and their relationship to health-related behaviors in over 12,000 US military personnel: Bi-directional associations

J Affect Disord. 2021 Mar 15:283:84-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.01.029. Epub 2021 Jan 15.


Background Military personnel are at greater risk of psychological disorders and related symptoms than civilians. Limited participation in health-promoting behaviors may increase presence of these disorders. Alternatively, these symptoms may limit engagement in health-promoting behaviors. Methods Self-reported data from the 2015 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey were used to assess bi-directional relationships between health-related behaviors (obesity, physical activity [PA], alcohol, smoking, sleep) and self-reported psychological disorders (generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], depression, post-traumatic disorder [PTSD]) in U.S. military personnel. Outcomes Among 12 708 respondents (14.7% female; 28.2% 17-24 y; 13.7% obese), self-reported depression was reported by 9.2%, GAD by 13.9%, and PTSD by 8.2%. Obesity and short sleep were associated with self-reported depression, GAD, and PTSD; current smoking was associated with higher odds of GAD; higher levels of vigorous PA were associated with lower odds of GAD; higher levels of moderate PA associated with lower odds of PTSD; and higher alcohol intake associated with higher odds of depression and PTSD. Self-reported depression, GAD, and PTSD were associated with higher odds of short sleep, obesity, and low levels of PA. Interpretation Obesity, short sleep, and limited engagement in health-promoting behaviors are associated with higher likelihood of self-reported psychological disorders, and vice-versa. Encouraging and improving health-promoting behaviors may contribute to positive mental health in military personnel.

Keywords: Air Force; Army; Coast Guard; Exercise; Marine Corps; Mental health; Navy; Psychological disorders; Sleep; Survey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology