Work-Family Conflict Dogs Air Force Women After Deployment

SUNDAY Aug. 19, 2007 -- At least one major symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was reported by about 20 percent of 1,114 women in the U.S. Air Force deployed during the Iraq War, says a University of Michigan study that found a link between PTSD and work-family conflict.

The women in the survey (74.2 percent enlisted, 25.8 percent officers) were deployed at least once since March 19, 2003. About 62 percent of them were deployed in a theater of war.

The study authors found that women who experienced higher levels of family-work conflict were more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and depression. They were also less likely to feel they could cope with daily demands and responsibilities.

"We were surprised to find that work-family conflict is an independent and significant predictor of PTSD, above and beyond combat exposure. This finding is important, because there are many things we can do to help minimize work-family stress and the toll it is taking on women in the military," study author Penny Pierce, an associate professor in the U-M School of Nursing, said in a prepared statement.

"Since the Gulf War, the role of women in combat has been a subject of heated debate. This study is the latest attempt to assess the impact of deployment-related stressors, including family separation, on military women, who now comprise 13 percent of our nation's armed forces," said Pierce, who is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve Program.

She presented preliminary findings from the study on Sunday at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

"We cannot hope to take away the stress of combat, but the additional stress caused by family-work conflicts can be modified," Pierce said. "Steps can be taken to reduce the anxiety and depression of servicewomen who are worried about what is happening on the home front. In the near future, we hope to identify some areas where we can intervene to help reduce this source of stress."

Another study presented at the meeting found that almost half -- 42 percent -- of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said they now felt like a "guest in their own home," and one in five felt their children did not respond warmly to them, or were even afraid of them. In many of these cases, depression or PTSD played a major role, the researchers reported.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about PTSD.

Posted: August 2007


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