Study shows how deployment impacts psychological changes in military veterans

According to MSU researchers, the majority of the soldiers examined exhibited highly stable character strengths considered to be part of a resilient class.

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A large-scale study conducted by Michigan State University in conjunction with the United States Army probed the effects on mental health military soldiers endure during deployment.

According to researchers, the majority of the soldiers examined exhibited highly stable character strengths considered to be part of a resilient class. But some who enlisted with lower character strengthens worsened over time. The study was published in the Journal of Personality.

In the study, more than 200,000 military veterans, most of which were in early adulthood, took part before their very first deployment.

“Character strengths were assessed once before and up to three times following soldiers’ return from deployment,” the co-authors stated in their findings. “In the current study, we examined changes in character strengths in Army soldiers deploying for the first time.”

Active-duty soldiers of both genders were administered a questionnaire to measure psychological characteristics before deployment and after their return overseas. 24 character strengths were measured in totality.

Researchers noted the presence of mental health adversities before active-duty services. “Veterans’ substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide rates are higher than other populations; the Army knew it was time to more closely track psychological traits before and after they deployed,” William Chopik, the study’s lead author, explained in a news release.

“Our research suggests that many mental health struggles existed before they were sent overseas.”

As detailed in the findings, 60 percent of the active-duty soldiers examined correlated with highly-stable character strengths before deployment and after. While 40 percent with lower character strengths pre-deployment experienced worsening psychological conflicts, with an even wider struggle to recover as a result.

“Most soldiers were resilient—they had high levels of character strengths prior to deployment and changed very little across the deployment cycle. Approximately 40% of soldiers started with lower character and experienced initial declines post‐deployment, from which they experienced no more than small gains over time,” the co-authors determined.

“Our findings suggest that people who are stable with positive character strengths prior to deployment – which was the majority of soldiers – don’t have high rates of substance abuse, depression or other struggles once they return from combat.”

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