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Religion and mental health among women veterans with sexual assault experience.

Chang BH, Skinner KM, Boehmer U. Religion and mental health among women veterans with sexual assault experience. International journal of psychiatry in medicine. 2001 Sep 1; 31(1):77-95.

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OBJECTIVE: Religion has been shown to have a positive impact on well-being and to play an important role in coping with stressful life events. However, the buffering effect of religiosity on mental health, after a particularly stressful life event such as sexual assault, has not been studied. In this study we examined the buffering effect of religion on mental health and depression for women who report experiencing sexual assault while in the military. METHOD: The sample includes a nationally representative sample of 3,543 women veterans who use VA ambulatory care. Two dimensions of religiosity were used: organizational (frequency of religious service attendance) and subjective (the extent religious beliefs are a source of strength/comfort). Mental health was measured by the mental component summary (MCS) from the SF36 and depressive symptoms were measured by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale. RESULTS: Women veterans who reported experiencing sexual assault while in the military had lower mental health scores and higher levels of depression. Linear regression analysis indicated that these negative impacts diminished with increased frequency of religious service attendance, supporting the buffering effect of organizational religiosity on mental health and depression. Although the buffering effect of subjective religiosity was not evident, subjective religiosity was shown to be positively associated with better mental health in both groups of women with and without sexual assault experience in the military. CONCLUSIONS: Frequent religious service attendance buffers the negative impacts of sexual assault on mental health and depression of women veterans. The potential of integrating religiosity in designing interventions is discussed.

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