The rate of psychological distress among military veterans has increased dramatically in recent years. This could be due in part to the large number of military personnel returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The mental health problems that develop in these individuals cover a broad spectrum of issues, but many report symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol misuse. Veterans face many challenges when they return from war, and the additional strain of mental health problems can make reintegration into civilian society that much more difficult. Therefore, every effort should be made to determine what increases the risk of these issues in veterans and what can be done to minimize negative outcomes.
Lisa M. James of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Minnesota wanted to contribute to this effort by examining what predeployment and postdeployment factors most influenced psychological stress for veterans. Using a sample of 271 veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, James examined neuroticism, specifically as it related the fear of combat/deployment threat, as well as predeployment stressors, combat history, and postdeployment support in the participants. She assessed them six months after they returned from combat and two more times over the following 18 months to see how these factors influenced PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues.
James found a direct link between neuroticism and mental health at all assessments. In particular, she noticed that veterans with high levels of neuroticism were at high risk of developing PTSD and depression. Also, the perception of threat increased the risk for PTSD and depression in the first year postdeployment. She found no link between any of these factors and the risk of alcohol misuse. However, she did find a positive link between strong social support postdeployment and low psychological distress for all the participants. James said, “Efforts aimed at increasing sustained postdeployment social support may help defend against significant mental health problems among veterans.”
James, Lisa M. (2013). Risk and protective factors associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, and alcohol misuse in OEF/OIF veterans. Military Medicine 178.2: 159-65. Print.
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