Combat exposure and mental health outcomes: The incremental impact of nonsexual harassment on women veterans

Psychol Trauma. 2022 May;14(4):597-604. doi: 10.1037/tra0001057. Epub 2021 Jul 5.


Objective: This study investigated the impact of combat exposure and nonsexual harassment (verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey negative and harmful attitudes on the basis of minority status) on mental health functioning in female veterans who were deployed Afghanistan and Iraq. Method: Participants (N = 134) completed measures of combat exposure, nonsexual harassment, PTSD, depression, and alcohol use. Results: Binary logistic regression models indicated nonsexual harassment was significantly associated with later symptoms of PTSD and depression, but not problem drinking; combat exposure was significantly associated with symptoms of PTSD and alcohol use, but not depression. Relative risk ratios indicated that for women with even minimal exposure to combat, experiencing nonsexual harassment significantly increased the likelihood of manifesting PTSD, depression, and problem drinking symptoms that met at least minimum threshold for clinical diagnoses. The impact of nonsexual harassment resulted in an almost 4 times greater risk for PTSD symptoms and problem drinking and up to 6 times greater risk for depression when experienced concurrently with combat exposure. Conclusions: Although nonsexual harassment does not pose the same physical threat as assault from enemy fire, findings suggest that it does pose an invisible threat to mental health and contribute to understanding and contextualizing the impact of nonsexual harassment on female veterans' psychological well-being. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Alcoholism* / psychology
  • Female
  • Harassment, Non-Sexual*
  • Humans
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Mental Health
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology
  • Veterans* / psychology