DU research shows possible ways to protect against PTSD for some soldiers

A new study from DU’s Center for Marital and Family Studies finds that for active-duty male soldiers in the Army who are happily married, communicating frequently with one’s spouse during deployment may protect against the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A DU research team studied information from 193 married male Army soldiers who returned from military deployment within the past year. They found that reports of more frequent spousal communication during deployment through what the team termed “delayed” communication were associated with lower PTSD symptoms, but only in soldiers with higher levels of marital satisfaction. Delayed communication includes correspondence through letters, care packages and emails.

“We think these results mean that frequent, loving spousal communication during deployment functions as social support for happily married soldiers, which can help protect against PTSD symptoms,” says Ben Loew, a graduate student in DU’s Clinical Psychology PhD Program.

However, the apparent benefits did not hold for “interactive” communication such as phone calls and instant messaging. Researchers speculate that letters, which happened less often overall compared to phone calls, may be less likely to address conflict.

“Letters you receive can also be read again and again, and when you write them, it can be therapeutic,” Loew notes.

For soldiers with lower marital satisfaction, more frequent communication was linked with more PTSD symptoms. The researchers speculate that communication with their spouses during deployment may have different characteristics, such as more negative statements and fewer loving messages.

According to Loew, this study highlights the importance of knowing how soldiers communicate with their spouses during deployment and whether this communication could be protective for a soldier’s mental health and marriage.

The research is part of a study on PREP for Strong Bonds, a marriage-education program for Army couples. The study is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Loew and his colleagues plan to conduct more comprehensive research that could help military decision-makers as well as Army couples themselves as they think about optimal communication during deployment.

In addition to Loew, the research was conducted by DU psychology professors Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, DU senior researcher Galena Rhoades; DU research assistant Sarah Carter; and Elizabeth Allen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado-Denver.

The study appears in the June issue of The Journal of Traumatic Stress.

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