Studies have shown that soldiers in combat are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a severe anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people who have PTSD may experience flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts, and they may also lose interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
However, researchers from Michigan State University found that soldiers who are trained to be more optimistic in traumatic situations are less likely to develop mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. The study is based on a 2004 survey of 648 soldiers in nine combat units in Iraq. The findings appear in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
Researchers examined the soldiers' responses in terms of hopefulness, optimism and ego resilience, which is how well an individual maintains his or her psychological health amidst traumatic circumstances.
"There is evidence that if we can train people to be more psychologically resilient — that is, less catastrophic in their thinking and more optimistic and more hopeful — then they function better when they encounter traumatic situations," said John Schaubroeck, lead author of the study.
Schaubroeck added that military leaders play an important role in sending a message of hope and optimism to their troops. He said it is important for officials to provide immediate support for an individual who experiences trauma because by the time they consult a health professional, mental problems may already escalate to severe levels.