For Soldiers, Prior Assault Increases Chance of PTSD

Jun 28, 2008

Both women and men who were physically or sexually assaulted before entering the military are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after deployment than men and women with no history of assault, a new U.S. Navy study finds. A history of assault seems to bring vulnerability to, rather than resilience against, PTSD.

It is estimated that one in ten veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD symptoms. This study, by researchers at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, is the first to look at the effects of assaults prior to combat experience.

Twenty-eight percent of the 881 women in the study reported a prior sexual or violent assault. More than half of them reported sexual assault alone. Nine percent of the 4,443 men in the study reported a prior assault – almost all violent, and not sexual, assault.

“Despite the sex differences in prevalence and type of prior assault, the odds of new onset of PTSD symptoms after deployment and combat exposures were similar for men and women,” the study says. “This doubling of the odds persisted after adjusting for demographic, military, and behavioral characteristics, suggesting that having a history of assault is more important than either the sex of the respondent or the type of assault.”

The authors of “Prior Assault and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Combat Deployment” recommend more research to better understand how experience with assault may affect coping mechanisms, and later vulnerability to future trauma or mental health problems. The new study is published in the May issue of Epidemiology.

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