The experiences of female members in the Canadian military
Studies on the mental health of female military service members have mostly examined risk factors for negative outcomes rather than exploring what promotes psychological well-being. The theory of ‘salutogenesis’, or, ‘the origin of health’, strives to understand why many individuals are able to remain well amidst stressful conditions (Antonovsky, 1996). The present research explored how female soldiers engage in mental health maintenance. In Study 1, associations between negative psychological outcomes and social support, coping strategies, and spirituality/religious attendance were examined in a representative sample of female service members in the Canadian Forces. Differences from men with respect to these relationships were also investigated. Results showed that social support was the only protective correlate for multiple outcomes in women, while both social support and active coping were psychologically beneficial for men. Spirituality, avoidance coping, and self-medication were all associated with an increased likelihood of several outcomes in women, and the pattern of findings was similar overall in men. In Study 2, semi-structured interviews were conducted with active duty female members in the Canadian Forces in order to understand how women who had been on at least one deployment and who had not received mental health services in the past year, a proxy for current mental health, made sense of their military experiences. Transcripts were analyzed for nine participants using narrative analysis. A sense of belonging was found to be of utmost salience to the women, with several participants negotiating and constructing places that felt like home base to them, and with different degrees of attachment to the military versus civilian world. The findings of this work are discussed within the context of focusing prevention and intervention efforts on increasing belongingness, social cohesion, and a sense of home in the military for female service members.