A new study finds that exposure to wartime experiences and levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increased from 2008 to 2013 among both deployed and non-deployed active duty female Air Force personnel.

Wartime experiences include events such as indirect exposure to combat and the perception of being in danger of being killed.

The findings show that rates of post-deployment PTSD were highest among women who reported wartime experiences during deployment. The likelihood of a positive PTSD screen increased as the number of wartime experiences increased. However, the researchers also found that PTSD levels decreased with increases in unit cohesion and self-efficacy (the belief in one’s ability to succeed in a particular situation).

The article is published in the Journal of Women’s Health, a peer-reviewed publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers. The study was co-authored by Nicole C. Breeden, Ph.D., and colleagues from The Pennsylvania State University and Bastyr University in Washington State.

For the study, the researchers looked for any associations among wartime experiences (such as indirect exposure to combat and the perception of being in danger of being killed), reports of self-efficacy, perceptions of unit cohesion, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The findings suggest that unit cohesion and self-efficacy may reduce the negative impact of wartime experiences to promote better mental health adjustment for female service members post deployment.

“This important study advances understanding of the impact of risk and protective factors on the development of PTSD symptoms among female military service members,” said Susan G. Kornstein, M.D., editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women’s Health and executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women’s Health, Richmond, VA.

“Additional research is needed to provide further insights regarding specific factors that may contribute to improving post-deployment mental health outcomes.”

Women are the fast-growing group of veterans. In 2008, 11 of every 100 veterans (or 11 percent) from the Afghanistan and Iraq military operations were women, according to the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although they are not always trained for direct combat, many female personnel take part in stressful and dangerous combat or combat-support missions. This might include receiving hostile fire, returning fire, and seeing themselves or others getting hurt. Many women (and men) are also the victims of military sexual assault.

Source: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.