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Unit cohesion may protect service member mental health by mitigating effects of combat exposure; however, questions remain about the origins of potential stress-buffering effects. We examined buffering effects associated with two forms of unit cohesion (peer-oriented horizontal cohesion and subordinate-leader vertical cohesion) defined as either individual-level or aggregated unit-level variables.
Longitudinal survey data from US Army soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 were analyzed using mixed-effects regression. Models evaluated individual- and unit-level interaction effects of combat exposure and cohesion during deployment on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicidal ideation reported at 3 months post-deployment (model n's = 6684 to 6826). Given the small effective sample size (k = 89), the significance of unit-level interactions was evaluated at a 90% confidence level.
At the individual-level, buffering effects of horizontal cohesion were found for PTSD symptoms [B = −0.11, 95% CI (−0.18 to −0.04), p < 0.01] and depressive symptoms [B = −0.06, 95% CI (−0.10 to −0.01), p < 0.05]; while a buffering effect of vertical cohesion was observed for PTSD symptoms only [B = −0.03, 95% CI (−0.06 to −0.0001), p < 0.05]. At the unit-level, buffering effects of horizontal (but not vertical) cohesion were observed for PTSD symptoms [B = −0.91, 90% CI (−1.70 to −0.11), p = 0.06], depressive symptoms [B = −0.83, 90% CI (−1.24 to −0.41), p < 0.01], and suicidal ideation [B = −0.32, 90% CI (−0.62 to −0.01), p = 0.08].
Policies and interventions that enhance horizontal cohesion may protect combat-exposed units against post-deployment mental health problems. Efforts to support individual soldiers who report low levels of horizontal or vertical cohesion may also yield mental health benefits.
Whereas genetic susceptibility increases the risk for major depressive disorder (MDD), non-genetic protective factors may mitigate this risk. In a large-scale prospective study of US Army soldiers, we examined whether trait resilience and/or unit cohesion could protect against the onset of MDD following combat deployment, even in soldiers at high polygenic risk.
Data were analyzed from 3079 soldiers of European ancestry assessed before and after their deployment to Afghanistan. Incident MDD was defined as no MDD episode at pre-deployment, followed by a MDD episode following deployment. Polygenic risk scores were constructed from a large-scale genome-wide association study of major depression. We first examined the main effects of the MDD PRS and each protective factor on incident MDD. We then tested the effects of each protective factor on incident MDD across strata of polygenic risk.
Polygenic risk showed a dose–response relationship to depression, such that soldiers at high polygenic risk had greatest odds for incident MDD. Both unit cohesion and trait resilience were prospectively associated with reduced risk for incident MDD. Notably, the protective effect of unit cohesion persisted even in soldiers at highest polygenic risk.
Polygenic risk was associated with new-onset MDD in deployed soldiers. However, unit cohesion – an index of perceived support and morale – was protective against incident MDD even among those at highest genetic risk, and may represent a potent target for promoting resilience in vulnerable soldiers. Findings illustrate the value of combining genomic and environmental data in a prospective design to identify robust protective factors for mental health.
Distinguishing a disorder of persistent and impairing grief from normative grief allows clinicians to identify this often undetected and disabling condition. As four diagnostic criteria sets for a grief disorder have been proposed, their similarities and differences need to be elucidated.
Participants were family members bereaved by US military service death (N = 1732). We conducted analyses to assess the accuracy of each criteria set in identifying threshold cases (participants who endorsed baseline Inventory of Complicated Grief ⩾30 and Work and Social Adjustment Scale ⩾20) and excluding those below this threshold. We also calculated agreement among criteria sets by varying numbers of required associated symptoms.
All four criteria sets accurately excluded participants below our identified clinical threshold (i.e. correctly excluding 86–96% of those subthreshold), but they varied in identification of threshold cases (i.e. correctly identifying 47–82%). When the number of associated symptoms was held constant, criteria sets performed similarly. Accurate case identification was optimized when one or two associated symptoms were required. When employing optimized symptom numbers, pairwise agreements among criteria became correspondingly ‘very good’ (κ = 0.86–0.96).
The four proposed criteria sets describe a similar condition of persistent and impairing grief, but differ primarily in criteria restrictiveness. Diagnostic guidance for prolonged grief disorder in International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition (ICD-11) functions well, whereas the criteria put forth in Section III of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) are unnecessarily restrictive.
Community characteristics, such as perceived collective efficacy, a measure of community strength, can affect mental health outcomes following disasters. We examined the association of perceived collective efficacy with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and frequent mental distress (14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the past month) following exposure to the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.
Participants were 1486 Florida Department of Health workers who completed anonymous questionnaires that were distributed electronically 9 months after the 2005 hurricane season. Participant ages ranged from 20 to 79 years (mean, 48; SD, 10.7), and the majority were female (79%), white (75%), and currently married (64%). Fifty percent had a BA/BS degree or higher.
In 2 separate logistic regression models, each adjusted for individual sociodemographics, community socioeconomic characteristics, individual injury/damage, and community storm damage, lower perceived collective efficacy was significantly associated with a greater likelihood of having PTSD (OR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.90-0.96), and lower collective efficacy was significantly associated with frequent mental distress (OR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.92-0.96).
Programs enhancing community collective efficacy may be a significant part of prevention practices and possibly lead to a reduction in the rate of PTSD and persistent distress postdisaster. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:44–52).
This study examined the relationship of sniper-related television viewing (TV) and perceived safety to posttraumatic stress (PTS) and depressive symptoms during the Washington, DC sniper attacks.
Participants were 1238 Washington, DC area residents assessed using an internet survey including the Impact of Event Scale-Revised, Patient Health Questionnaire-9, hours of TV, and perceived safety.
Almost 40% (n = 459) of participants watched at least 2 hours of sniper-related TV daily. TV viewing was associated with lower total perceived safety. After adjusting for demographics, more TV viewing and decreased perceived safety were related to increased PTS and depressive symptoms. TV viewing modified the effect of safety on PTS and depressive symptoms. Among participants with low and high perceived safety, hours of TV were positively associated with PTS; however, the effect was stronger among those with low perceived safety. The relationship of TV to increased depressive symptoms was identified only in participants who reported low perceived safety.
The influence of media exposure and perceived safety have implications for intervention by community leaders and mental health care providers. Recommendations include limiting media exposure during a terrorist event, particularly among those who perceive that their safety is at risk, and targeting safety in communication strategies. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:570-576)
Investigations of drinking behavior across military deployment cycles are scarce, and few prospective studies have examined risk factors for post-deployment alcohol misuse.
Prevalence of alcohol misuse was estimated among 4645 US Army soldiers who participated in a longitudinal survey. Assessment occurred 1–2 months before soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 (T0), upon their return to the USA (T1), 3 months later (T2), and 9 months later (T3). Weights-adjusted logistic regression was used to evaluate associations of hypothesized risk factors with post-deployment incidence and persistence of heavy drinking (HD) (consuming 5 + alcoholic drinks at least 1–2×/week) and alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD).
Prevalence of past-month HD at T0, T2, and T3 was 23.3% (s.e. = 0.7%), 26.1% (s.e. = 0.8%), and 22.3% (s.e. = 0.7%); corresponding estimates for any binge drinking (BD) were 52.5% (s.e. = 1.0%), 52.5% (s.e. = 1.0%), and 41.3% (s.e. = 0.9%). Greater personal life stress during deployment (e.g., relationship, family, or financial problems) – but not combat stress – was associated with new onset of HD at T2 [per standard score increase: adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.20, 95% CI 1.06–1.35, p = 0.003]; incidence of AUD/SUD at T2 (AOR = 1.54, 95% CI 1.25–1.89, p < 0.0005); and persistence of AUD/SUD at T2 and T3 (AOR = 1.30, 95% CI 1.08–1.56, p = 0.005). Any BD pre-deployment was associated with post-deployment onset of HD (AOR = 3.21, 95% CI 2.57–4.02, p < 0.0005) and AUD/SUD (AOR = 1.85, 95% CI 1.27–2.70, p = 0.001).
Alcohol misuse is common during the months preceding and following deployment. Timely intervention aimed at alleviating/managing personal stressors or curbing risky drinking might reduce risk of alcohol-related problems post-deployment.
A series of sniper attacks in the Washington, DC, area left 10 people dead and 3 wounded. We developed and tested a model that examined the unique and interdependent relationships of sniper-related television viewing, prior life-threatening events, and parental status to identification with attack victims.
Participants were 1238 residents of the DC area (aged 18-90 years, mean=41.7 years; 51% female; 68% white) who completed an online survey that assessed identification with sniper attack victims, amount of television viewing, and prior life-threatening events. Identification was measured by using a previously developed scale that assessed to what extent participants identified victims as similar to themselves, a friend, or a family member.
The relationship of television viewing to identification was examined by using multivariate linear regression analyses. In univariate analyses, female gender, having children, higher levels of television viewing, and past life-threatening events were independently related to greater identification. After adjustment for demographics and life-threatening events, sniper-related television viewing continued to be associated with identification (B=0.61, P≤0.001, ∆R2=0.07). Examination of the interactions of television viewing by parental status and television viewing by life-threatening event revealed significant relationships.
Attention to events preceding and during a terrorist event could help in the recognition of those at particular risk for increased identification with attack victims. These findings also have implications for recommendations for media exposure during an event. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2018; 12: 337–344)
Covering both natural and man-made scenarios including war and terrorism, the Textbook of Disaster Psychiatry is a vital international reference for medical professionals, community leaders and disaster responders a decade after its initial publication. Spanning a decade of advances in disaster psychiatry, this new and updated second edition brings together the views of current international experts to offer a cutting-edge comprehensive review of the psychological, biological and social responses to disaster, in order to help prepare, react and aid effective recovery. Topics range from the epidemiology of disaster response, disaster ecology, the neurobiology of disaster exposure, to socio-cultural issues, early intervention and consultation-liaison care for injured victims. The role of non-governmental organizations, workplace policies and the implications for public health planning at both an individual and community level are also addressed.