Are Soldiers-in-training Likely to Seek Help when Experiencing a Problem?

Research Paper Title

Identifying Risk and Resilience Factors Associated With the Likelihood of Seeking Mental Health Care Among U.S. Army Soldiers-in-Training

Background

The Department of Defence aims to maintain mission readiness of its service members. Therefore, it is important to understand factors associated with treatment seeking in order to identify areas of prevention and intervention early in a soldier’s career that can promote positive functioning and increase their likelihood of seeking mental health care when necessary.

Methods

Using a theory of planned behaviour lens, this study identified potential barriers (risk) and facilitators (resilience) to treatment seeking among 24,717 soldiers-in-training who participated in the New Soldiers Study component of the “Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers” (Army STARRS). Hierarchal linear regression modelling and independent samples t-tests were used to examine associations between demographics and study variables, intersections of risk and resilience, and to explore differences in the likelihood of seeking help based on mental health diagnoses.

Results

A four-stage hierarchical linear regression was conducted, using likelihood of help-seeking as the dependent variable, to identify the most salient factors related to help-seeking. “Step one” of the analysis revealed soldiers-in-training who identified as female, Hispanic or Other ethnicity, and married, divorced, or separated reported a greater likelihood of seeking help. “Step two” of the analysis indicated soldiers-in-training with a history of sexual trauma, experience of impaired parenting, and clinical levels of mental health symptomatology (anxiety, depression, PTSD) reported a greater likelihood of seeking help.

Inversely, soldiers-in-training with a history of emotional trauma and parental absence/separation reported a lower likelihood of seeking help. “Step three” of the analysis demonstrated soldiers-in-training with a prior history of seeking help and larger social networks had a greater likelihood of seeking help. “Step four” of the analysis revealed several interactive effects between risk and resilience factors.

Specifically, soldiers-in-training who reported greater depressive symptomatology in combination with prior history of treatment seeking reported a greater likelihood of help seeking, whereas soldiers-in-training who reported prior sexual trauma and PTSD in combination with large social networks reported a lower likelihood of seeking help. Finally, a greater percentage of soldiers-in-training with clinical levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD indicated they would likely seek help in comparison to soldiers-in-training without clinical symptoms.

Conclusions

Findings suggest few soldiers-in-training are likely to seek help when experiencing a problem. General efforts to encourage help-seeking when needed are warranted with particular focus on subsets of soldiers-in-training (e.g., men, those with a history of some adverse childhood experiences).

Strengths of this study include the examination of a large sample of soldiers-in-training to identify possible leverage points for early intervention or prevention prior to entering stressful military operating environments.

Limitations of this study include the examination of only one military branch and exclusion of soldiers not “in-training.”

Future studies could consider replicating the current study using a sample of military personnel longitudinally to track behavioral trends as well as looking at military populations outside of basic combat training.

Reference

Duncan, J.M., Reed-Fitzke, K., Ferraro, A.J., Wojciak, A.S., Smith, K.M. & Sanchez, K. (2020) Identifying Risk and Resilience Factors Associated With the Likelihood of Seeking Mental Health Care Among U.S. Army Soldiers-in-Training. Military Medicine. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz483. Online ahead of print.

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