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J Anxiety Disord. 2009 Aug;23(6):767-74. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2009.02.015. Epub 2009 Mar 11.

Gender and PTSD: What can we learn from female police officers?

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


Studies of civilians typically find that female gender is a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Police and military studies often find no gender differences in PTSD. We compared 157 female police officers and 124 female civilians on several variables including trauma exposure, peritraumatic emotional distress, current somatization, and cumulative PTSD symptoms. We found that despite greater exposure to assaultive violence in the officer group, female civilians reported significantly more severe PTSD symptoms. Elevated PTSD symptoms in female civilians were explained by significantly more intense peritraumatic emotional distress among female civilians. We also found that female officers showed a stronger direct relationship between peritraumatic emotional distress and current somatization. Our findings suggest that apparent gender differences in PTSD may result from differences in peritraumatic emotionality, which influence subsequent PTSD and somatization symptoms. Emotionality may be more important than biological sex in understanding gender differences in PTSD.

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