Returning soldiers’ intimate relationships: Negative emotionality, PTSD and alcohol
Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began a decade ago, more than 2 million Americans have served in these conflicts. Many have children and partners who are affected by their absence, and even when they do return home, their experiences may severely impact their relationships. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, more than 40% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who underwent Veterans Affairs behavioral health evaluations indicated that they felt like a “guest in their household,” and more than 50% reported “shouting, pushing or shoving” incidents with a partner.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, “Intimate Relationships Among Returning Soldiers: The Mediating and Moderating Roles of Negative Emotionality, PTSD Symptoms and Alcohol Problems,” examines the association between war-related problems and relationship distress among soldiers who served in Iraq. The authors, from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Duke University Medical Center, sought to better understand the contribution of preexisting emotional issues and problem drinking to post-deployment PTSD symptoms and relationship issues.
Among men with symptoms of PTSD, the most common disorder is alcohol abuse or dependence. Negative emotionality, also associated with PTSD, is defined as “the tendency to experience negative emotional states such as anxiety or irritability, react poorly to stress, and respond out of proportion to circumstances.” Participants for this study were drawn from a longitudinal study of 522 Army National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq.
The study’s findings include:
- Of the study participants, 16% screened positive for probable PTSD, 22% for relationship distress and 31% for hazardous levels of alcohol consumption.
- Soldiers with who showed signs of PTSD were more likely to experience relationship distress than those without probable PTSD (33% versus 20%).
- Those who showed evidence of hazardous drinking were more likely to screen positive for PTSD (37% versus 29%) but did not display significantly more relationship distress than those without alcohol issues.
- Higher levels of preexisting negative emotionality were associated with higher levels of PTSD symptoms after deployment. In addition, post-deployment PTSD symptoms were associated with lower relationship quality, even after accounting for prior exposure to trauma and preexisting PTSD symptoms.
The authors note that “a feedback loop may exist between postdeployment PTSD symptoms and relationship quality, such that PTSD symptoms increase problems in intimate relationships, and relationship dissatisfaction exacerbates PTSD.” They recommend additional study of how PTSD and relationship quality interact.
A related 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that, across a sample of nearly 600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 39% screened for probable alcohol abuse.
Tags: PTSD, war, veterans, mental health
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "The Minefield at Home."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?