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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