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The effects of life stress and social support on reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans

Patricia Mary Gallagher, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Life events, even those that are predictable over the course of a life, can create psychosocial stress. Survivors of catastrophic events may be particularly susceptible to the stress of life. While the aid and comfort available to those embedded in a social networks appear to help most weather the storms of life, there may be unique populations that are relatively immune to social support. Veterans of combat, owing to the extreme nature of war experiences, may be just such a population. Throughout the life course, combat veterans can experience psychological distress stemming from their war experiences. One manifestation of this distress is symptoms of combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A model was developed that would account for variation in symptoms of PTSD among veterans based on timing of military service, exposure to combat, current stressful life events, and level of social support available. This study examines determinants of reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans seeking ambulatory care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Data derived from the pilot study for the Veterans Health Study, funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, were used to assess whether veterans’ symptomatology may be viewed as an interplay between stress factors, specifically a history of exposure to combat and life events occurring within the last year, and perceived levels of current social support. The results indicate that stress factors, including combat exposure and current stressful life events, are major determinants of PTSD symptoms in veterans. Age at entry to the military and current levels of social support did not prove to be significant predictors of these symptoms in this sample.

Subject Area

Sociology|Social psychology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Gallagher, Patricia Mary, "The effects of life stress and social support on reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920603.