What work-related exposures are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder? A systematic review with meta-analysis

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Objectives Although there is evidence that work-related exposures cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are few quantitative studies assessing the degree to which these factors contribute to PTSD. This systematic review with meta-analysis identified work-related exposures associated with PTSD, and quantified their contribution to this disorder. Methods We searched Medline, PsycINFO, Embase, PILOTS and Web of Science (2005-10 September 2019) for longitudinal studies on work-related exposures and PTSD. We described included articles, and conducted meta-analyses for exposures with sufficient homogeneous information. We performed subgroup analyses for risk of bias, study design and PTSD ascertainment. We assessed evidence quality using Grades of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation, and estimated population attributable fractions. Results After screening 8590 records, we selected 33 studies (n=5 719 236). From what was moderate quality evidence at best, we identified various work-related exposures that were associated with PTSD, mainly involving individuals in the military and first responder (eg, police or fire brigade) occupations. These exposures included the number of army deployments (OR: 1.15 (95% CI 1.14 to 1.16)), combat exposure (OR 1.89 (95% CI 1.46 to 2.45)), army deployment (OR 1.79 (95% CI 1.45 to 2.21)) and confrontation with death (OR 1.63 (95% CI 1.41 to 1.90)). Effects were robust across subgroups and exposures attributed modestly (7%-34%) to PTSD. We identified additional exposures in other occupations, including life threats, being present during an attack, and hearing about a colleague's trauma. Conclusions We identified various work-related exposures associated with PTSD and quantified their contribution. While exposure assessment, PTSD ascertainment and inconsistency may have biased our findings, our data are of importance for development of preventive interventions and occupational health guidelines.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere049651
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2021


  • epidemiology
  • mental health
  • occupational & industrial medicine

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