The Role of Social Support and Coping Strategies on Mental Health of a Group of Iranian Disabled War Veterans

Article excerpt

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the role of social support on the mental health of disabled war veterans alongside the role of physical disability and deployment type. The second aim of the study was to examine the relationship between coping strategies and mental health.

Method: 85 disabled Iranian war veterans participated in this study. All of the participants were asked to complete the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) ,Social Support Survey, Impact of Event-Revised Scale (IES-R), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), The Short Form (SF-36) Health Survey Questionnaire, and Brief COPE Scale.

Results: The results showed that social support had a significant contribution on the mental health of the participants above and beyond the physical disability and deployment type. The physical disability also predicted the mental health of veterans, but deployment type did not have any significant contribution on mental health of the participants. The findings also showed that those veterans who used constructive coping strategies had better mental health status .

Conclusion: The findings suggest that after more than twenty years of war, social support still plays an important role in the life of Iranian disabled war veterans.

Key words: Iran, Mental health, Psychological adaptation, Social Support, Veterans

Iran J Psychiatry 2010; 5: 102-107

There is ample evidence that people with larger social networks and those who perceive that support is available to them show less reactivity to stressors or have better mental health (1). It is argued that social support acts as a buffer to stress and its destructive consequences. It can help to prevent stress by making harmful experiences seem less consequential or provide valuable resources for coping when stress does occur (2). Social support is an important strategy which helps people to cope with traumatic experiences. Having effective social support has been shown to be one of the most significant correlates of well-being and has long been believed to positively impact health and guard against distress (3). Although there is no consensus about the relationship between social support and PTSD, having sufficient and satisfactory social support is generally associated with less psychological distress, such as PTSD (1). In general, research has demonstrated an important relationship between social support and trauma outcomes across a variety of traumatized populations (4). For example, a study found that veterans with low social support had an 80% greater risk of PTSD than those with average support (5). Other studies also reported that older veterans with restricted social networks had poorer cognitive functioning (4). In another research, lack of social support from officers was found to be related to a greater feeling of loneliness and combat stress reaction among veterans (6). A research conducted on 306 veterans in Kosovo two years after war found that persons with social support had lower posttraumatic stress (7).

A qualitative research also found that during and after the war, social support and comradeship were particularly important; and even fifty years after the war comrades were still a valuable resource for discussing war experiences, and dealing with the emotional content of traumatic recollections. These findings showed that social support was an important lifelong coping strategy for World War II veterans (8). Similarly, in another study on a group of Vietnamese veterans, researchers reported that veterans, who were traumatized by their combat experiences, described significant reduction over time in their social network size and in the various qualitative dimensions of social support (9).

Many investigations have been conducted on Iranian war veterans with physical and mental health problems. Most of these studies were carried out after the ending of Iran-Iraq war. These studies have investigated the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among veterans (10); the effects of chemical agents on the health of veterans (11); the effect of veterans' health problems on their family members (12); the use of various coping strategies in coping with health problems (13); and psychotherapy with veterans with physical and mental problems (14). …