Association between social support and mental health conditions in treatment-seeking Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces personnel – 2018

Introduction: Despite limited research on the topic, it has been observed that military members face unique challenges with social support.

Methods: The current study used data provided by treatment-seeking Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members (N=666) to: (1) determine whether symptomatology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression (MDD), anxiety, and suicidal ideation (SI) increased as level of perceived social support decreased; and (2) identify if the level of perceived social support is associated with PTSD, MDD, and anxiety symptom distress and SI frequency; this was done while controlling for demographic factors. Social support was measured using a single item grouped according to “low,” “medium,” and “high” levels of perceived support.

Results: Overall, adequate social support was low with less than one-third (29%) of participants reporting a high level. There was an inverse association between social support and symptom distress for all mental health conditions, whereby those who perceived low social support had significantly greater symptom distress than those who perceived medium social support, who in turn reported significantly greater symptom distress than those perceiving high social support. Social support was significantly associated with all mental health conditions when controlling for demographic variables. The effect of social support on PTSD and SI affected Veterans and CAF members differently.

Discussion: Our study highlights the difficulty this population faces in maintaining adequate social support alongside military-related mental health disorders. More research is required to fully understand the role of social support in military populations.

Felicia Ketcheson, Lisa King, J Don Richardson
Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2018