Perceived Threat Leads to Elevated PTSD Among Military Personnel

Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) is not uncommon among military personnel. Soldiers who have been exposed to combat situations often develop symptoms of PTSD when they return from war. Even those not directly on the front lines can experience nonclinical symptoms associated with PTSD. It has been theorized that people who have PTSD may be overly sensitive to perceived threats, resulting in an exacerbation of symptoms. But it is unclear whether a perceived threat of trauma can be just as significant a risk factor for PTSD as an actual traumatic experience.

To explore this further, Juliette M. Mott of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Texas recently conducted an assessment of 1,740 veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She evaluated the presence of mood, anxiety, stress, and substance-use issues and their relation to perceived stress. Mott found that the greater the perceived threat prior to and during deployment, the greater the risk for post-deployment problems. Specifically, veterans with elevated threat perceptions had the highest levels of stress, mood, and anxiety issues when compared to veterans with lower threat perceptions. Mott also discovered that comorbidity was highest among participants who perceived more threat during deployment.

Of note was the fact perceived threat did not increase the risk for post-deployment substance misuse. However, despite that finding, these results clearly demonstrate that veterans can be just as negatively impacted by perception of threat as they can be by actual threatening events. Mott believes that increasing preparation and training prior to combat could help lower threat appraisals for veterans facing deployment. The results presented here were based only on veterans from the most recent wars, and do not demonstrate how threat perception affects PTSD in veterans from other wars, or survivors of different types of traumas. “Future research should continue to identify the impact of perceived threat on veterans from different eras, as well as survivors of diverse types of trauma,” Mott added.

Mott, Juliette M., David P. Graham, and Ellen J. Teng. Perceived threat during deployment: Risk factors and relation to Axis I disorders. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice & Policy 4.6 (2012): 587-95. Print.

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  • donna r

    donna r

    November 27th, 2012 at 3:54 AM

    Well don’t you feel anxious even when there is a perceived threat?
    I know that I do.
    If I am scared or nervous, even when or if it is unwarranted then my anxiety level rises.
    Think abot if you have this raise in anxiety and you have become prone to PTSD episodes.
    Don’t you think that this would naturally be a trigger?

  • dylan


    November 27th, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    perceived threat?well I can see how this affects someone,especially when the threat is to your life.

    and the fact that the perception of threat levels are controlled by factors very much beyond the control of these men makes it even worse.maybe mental toughening needs to be put into urgent mode because war is fought for much longer in the mind than in the battlefield.

  • Meg


    November 27th, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    I have always thought that if anyone could handle threat it would be someone with a military background. I guess I just always assume that they have been trained to handle it all.

  • Cole


    November 28th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    The key here is mental preparartion. You can prepare someone all you want on how to save themselves physically. But are they all given the kind of emotional coping skills that they will need to cope with the trauma that they could see. I think that this is definitely one area that the military could improve upon.

  • G.R


    November 28th, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Come on people, no amount of training can make someone maintain their cool when theyre staring at death!It takes courage to just enter the battlefield,imagine having threats all around and still having to carry on.I am not surprised even perceived threats affect the personnel.

    I dont know a precise solution to this but peace is certainly a good option.

  • Lori Snyder

    Lori Snyder

    November 28th, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    In the military, we are taught all sorts of methods of protecting ourselves from various physical threats and for the most part we learn them well. On an intellectual level, a soldier knows that the cost of his or her service to their country could be death. However, they are still human and don’t want to die and the idea that they might is still scary. The worst though is knowing that your friends or even that little boy you gave a candy bar to earlier could die. Perceived threats are real even if no one is sticking a gun in your face all the time. The book Faces of Combat tells the stories of some soldiers and their first hand experiences.

  • kenny


    November 28th, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    mind games are not a new thing.they exist because of this very reason-threats can be intimidating and can break a soldier’s morale and can bring him down mentally.

    but I’m surprised even perceived threat can be so damaging to actually cause PTSD.because there are so many people that have been exposed to actual traumatic situations and turned out fine so I would’ve thought perceive threats without any real in-your-face action would lack the firepower.

  • georgia


    November 29th, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    every war every mission and every battle has threat.there is no getting away from that.the difference is in perception,whether you have what it takes to have a threat and still go in there.its not for no reason that not everybody can just pick up a gun and become a soldier.

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