HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Religion, spirituality, and mental health of U.S. military veterans: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

Article

This article examines the association between religion/spirituality (R/S), and mental health and functional outcomes.  Although the study does not have treatment implications, results suggest that higher levels of R/S may help buffer risk for certain mental disorders and promote protective psychosocial characteristics in U.S. military veterans.

Abstract

In the last three decades, there has been increased interest in studying the association between religion/spirituality (R/S), and mental health and functional outcomes. Methods Using data from a contemporary, nationally representative sample of 3151 U.S. military veterans maintained by GfK Knowledge Networks, Inc., we evaluated the relation between R/S and a broad range of mental health, and psychosocial variables. Veterans were grouped into three groups based on scores on the Duke University Religion Index: High R/S (weighted 11.6%), Moderate R/S (79.7%) and Low R/S (8.7%). Results A “dose-response” protective association between R/S groups and several mental health outcomes was revealed, even after adjustment for sociodemographic and military variables. High R/S was associated with decreased risk for lifetime posttraumatic stress disorder (odds ratio [OR]=0.46), major depressive disorder (MDD; OR=0.50), and alcohol use disorder (OR=0.66), while Moderate R/S was associated with decreased risk for lifetime MDD (OR=0.66), current suicidal ideation (OR=0.63), and alcohol use disorder (OR=0.76). Higher levels of R/S were also strongly linked with increased dispositional gratitude, purpose in life, and posttraumatic growth. Limitations In this cross-sectional study, no conclusions regarding causality can be made. The study provides a current snapshot of the link between R/S and mental health. The study also cannot determine whether religious coping styles (negative vs positive coping) contributed to observed differences. Conclusions Although the present study does not have treatment implications, our results suggest that higher levels of R/S may help buffer risk for certain mental disorders and promote protective psychosocial characteristics in U.S. military veterans.

Full Reference

Sharma, V., Marin, D.B., Koenig, H.k., Feder, A., Iacoviello, B.M., 2017. Religion, spirituality, and mental health of U.S. military veterans: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 217, pp.197-204.