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Monitoring the mental well-being of female defence force personnel

Health & Medical

FOR the first time the predictors for mental disorders and psychological symptoms among Australian servicewomen and female war veterans will be examined by researchers.

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The research, funded through a Repat Foundation research grant in South Australia, will lead to better health monitoring and surveillance programs for Australian Defence Force (ADF) servicewomen.

Lead researcher Dr Ellie Lawrence-Wood, from the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide, said the study would address the significant gap in current understanding regarding the mental health of contemporary deployed and non-deployed Australian Defence Force servicewomen.

“We know there is an increased risk for affective disorders among ADF females compared to females in the general community, and the higher rates of anxiety disorders among ADF females compared to males, so an understanding of risk and resilience factors in this population is critically important,” Dr Lawrence Wood said.

She said the research reflected increased female workforce participation, and the growing female veteran population in Australia and worldwide.

“At the start of 2014, women comprised 16.2 per cent of all ADF personnel deployed on overseas ADF operations, and recent changes to the role of women within the ADF, including the removal of gender-based role restrictions, means that women are formally allowed to be involved in every aspect of military service, including combat support roles. Against this background, there is a significant gap in current understanding regarding the mental health of military servicewomen,” Dr Lawrence-Wood said.

Dr Lawrence-Wood said the current research project represented one element of a broader research agenda to identify the health outcomes and needs of Australian servicewomen and female veterans.

“More broadly, this program of work will eventually provide a baseline examination from which health monitoring and surveillance programs can be developed.

“It will also help to prioritise funding aimed at increasing female participation in the ADF, as well as other traditionally male-dominated organisations including emergency services, fire services and police, and importantly, it will provide visibility to a section of Australia’s Defence Force that until recently has been largely invisible.”

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