Traits relating to traditional masculinity -- such as self-reliance and stoicism -- are associated with more severe and difficult-to-treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans, researchers say.
"Overall, we found that strict adherence to masculine norms was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms in veterans, but more detailed analysis suggests that the association may specifically be caused by the veterans' belief that they should control and restrict their emotions. In other words, they should be tough," said study lead author Elizabeth Neilson, of Morehead State University in Kentucky.
This was found to be true for male and female veterans.
The researchers analyzed data from 17 studies conducted over the last 25 years. They included more than 3,500 military veterans.
Most of the studies were done in the United States; others were from Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Vietnam. Just one included female veterans. The paper was published Jan. 27 in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities.
"These findings suggest that veterans with rigid adherence to traditional masculinity may be at increased risk for developing PTSD, may have more severe PTSD symptoms and may be less likely to seek mental health treatment for PTSD," Neilson said in a journal news release.
She noted that while ideas about traditional masculinity are common in the general population, the ideas are instilled, normalized and reinforced in members of the military as part of their training.
"Previous research has found that military personnel report high levels of conformity to traditionally masculine norms, such as emotional control, self-reliance and the importance of one's job," Neilson said.
"These values can promote self-confidence and skill-building in the field, but when a service member is confronted with physical or mental trauma, they can also contribute to more severe PTSD," she said.
As many as 23 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, research suggests.
Matt Birnholz, MDPeer