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Relationship impairments hinder men seeking mental health treatment

December 11, 2018

(Boston)-- Relationship impairment (difficulty managing expectations and requirements within an intimate relationship) plays a role in explaining the association between symptom severity and those seeking treatment among post-9/11 military veterans. However, the role it plays is different for men and women.

In men, relationship impairment appears to interfere with seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, whereas for women, it may facilitate treatment seeking. These findings may partially explain widely demonstrated sex differences in those seeking treatment.

Although symptom severity is a known predictor of treatment seeking, the role of work and relationship impairment in this association is unclear. In an effort to examine the contribution of relationship and work impairment to service use among women and men with stress disorder PTSD and depression symptoms, researchers from the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) surveyed 363 post 9/11 military veterans.

They found that in men, treatment seeking was reduced when accompanied by high relationship impairment. For women, relationship impairment acted as a mediator of the positive association between PTSD symptom severity and service use.

According to the researchers the finding that relationship impairment interfered with treatment seeking for men but facilitated treatment seeking for women may help explain widely demonstrated sex differences in treatment seeking. "These results underscore the importance of attending to the role of relationship impairment in veterans' treatment seeking and highlight the value of implementing gender-informed approaches to treatment promotion efforts," explained corresponding author Dawne S. Vogt, PhD, research psychologist in the Women's Health Sciences Division, National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM.

While the researchers cannot be sure why this sex difference emerged, they believe it is possible that this finding is due to the different role that relationships often play in women's and men's lives, including women's greater attunement to and emphasis on relationships.
-end-
The findings appear in the journal Psychiatry Research.

This study was supported by two Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development Service grants: "Validation of Modified DRRI Scales in a National Sample of OEF/OIF Veterans" (DHI 09-086), Dawne Vogt, Principal Investigator, and "Work and Family Functioning in Women Veterans: Implications for VA Service Use" (IIR 12-345), Dawne Vogt and Brian Smith, Principal Investigators.

Boston University School of Medicine

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