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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.
Research of military personnel who deployed to the conflicts in Iraq or
Afghanistan has suggested that there are differences in mental health
outcomes between UK and US military personnel.
To compare the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
hazardous alcohol consumption, aggressive behaviour and multiple physical
symptoms in US and UK military personnel deployed to Iraq.
Data were from one US (n = 1560) and one UK
(n = 313) study of post-deployment military health of
army personnel who had deployed to Iraq during 2007–2008. Analyses were
stratified by high- and low-combat exposure.
Significant differences in combat exposure and sociodemographics were
observed between US and UK personnel; controlling for these variables
accounted for the difference in prevalence of PTSD, but not in the total
symptom level scores. Levels of hazardous alcohol consumption (low-combat
exposure: odds ratio (OR) = 0.13, 95% CI 0.07–0.21; high-combat exposure:
OR = 0.23, 95% CI 0.14–0.39) and aggression (low-combat exposure: OR =
0.36, 95% CI 0.19–0.68) were significantly lower in US compared with UK
personnel. There was no difference in multiple physical symptoms.
Differences in self-reported combat exposures explain most of the
differences in reported prevalence of PTSD. Adjusting for self-reported
combat exposures and sociodemographics did not explain differences in
hazardous alcohol consumption or aggression.