Trauma, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Depression Among Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Women Veterans

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Abstract

This study examined the impact of various traumas across the life span on screening positive for current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among heterosexual and sexual minority women veterans. Women veterans were recruited over the Internet (N = 706, 37% lesbian or bisexual) to participate in an anonymous, online survey. We assessed childhood trauma; adult sexual assault and adult physical victimization before, during, and after the military; combat exposure; perceived sexist discrimination during military service; sexual minority military stressors; past-year sexist events; and whether participants screened positive for PTSD or depression. Binary logistic regressions were used to generate odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for PTSD and depression, stratified by sexual orientation and controlling for demographic characteristics. Lesbian and bisexual women reported higher rates of trauma across the life span, although in some instances (e.g., sexual assault during and after military service, combat exposure), they did not differ from their heterosexual counterparts. Childhood trauma and traumas that occurred during military service added the most variance to both PTSD and depression models. Sexual assault during military service appeared to be especially harmful with respect to screening positive for PTSD for both sexual orientation groups. Results revealed a number of other predictors of mental health status for women veterans, some of which differed by sexual orientation. Findings indicate a significant burden of interpersonal trauma for both heterosexual and lesbian/bisexual women veterans and provide information on the distinct association of various traumas with current PTSD and depression by sexual orientation.

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