Veterans of the recent wars in the Middle East are returning home with more physical and psychological problems than veterans from any other previous wars. Although it is promising that our defense department and advanced medical technology can bring home more soldiers than ever before, the challenges that lie before them are staggering. Aside from having to cope with the psychological consequences of war, such as posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, these veterans must also reintegrate into civilian society in a time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment. According to the Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, the lack of resources, emotional, financial, material, and physical, can exacerbate symptoms of distress in individuals facing mental health problems. However, it is also thought that resource gain, through secure employment, emotional well-being, and physical well-being, can mediate the negative effects of psychological problems.
To test this theory further, Stevan E. Hobfoll of the Department of Behavioral Science at Rush Medical College in Chicago recently led a study that examined how resource gain and resource loss affected the physical and psychological condition of 796 returning Air Force veterans. Hobfoll evaluated their levels of depression, PTSD, overall health and functioning, and work and family stressors. After analyzing all of the factors, Hobfoll discovered that resource loss and gain affected the soldiers in unique ways. “The results largely support COR theory’s emphasis on the primacy of resource loss and the secondary, but important, inﬂuence of resource gains,” said Hobfoll. Specifically, the loss of resources affected the psychological stress of the veterans while resource gain affected their levels of functioning. The findings demonstrated that although loss decreased psychological well-being, it did not decrease functioning. Likewise, resource gain increased functioning but not psychological well-being. In sum, the results of this study show that veterans are affected by the stresses of their circumstances in a variety of ways. Interventions aimed at improving their overall health should focus on minimizing resource loss and maximizing resource gain.
Hobfoll, S. E., Vinokur, A. D., Pierce, P. F., Lewandowski-Romps, L. (2012). The combined stress of family life, work, and war in Air Force men and women: A test of conservation of resources theory. International Journal of Stress Management. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029247
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