Post-traumatic growth among veterans in the USA: results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

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Abstract

Background.

There is increasing recognition that, in addition to negative psychological consequences of trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some individuals may develop post-traumatic growth (PTG) following such experiences. To date, however, data regarding the prevalence, correlates and functional significance of PTG in population-based samples are lacking.

Method.

Data were analysed from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, a contemporary, nationally representative survey of 3157 US veterans. Veterans completed a survey containing measures of sociodemographic, military, health and psychosocial characteristics, and the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory-Short Form.

Results.

We found that 50.1% of all veterans and 72.0% of veterans who screened positive for PTSD reported at least ‘moderate’ PTG in relation to their worst traumatic event. An inverted U-shaped relationship was found to best explain the relationship between PTSD symptoms and PTG. Among veterans with PTSD, those with PTSD reported better mental functioning and general health than those without PTG. Experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury and re-experiencing symptoms were most strongly associated with PTG. In multivariable analysis, greater social connectedness, intrinsic religiosity and purpose in life were independently associated with greater PTG.

Conclusions.

PTG is prevalent among US veterans, particularly among those who screen positive for PTSD. These results suggest that there may be a ‘positive legacy’ of trauma that has functional significance for veterans. They further suggest that interventions geared toward helping trauma-exposed US veterans process their re-experiencing symptoms, and to develop greater social connections, sense of purpose and intrinsic religiosity may help promote PTG in this population.

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