Finding Resilience: The Mediation Effect of Sense of Community on the Psychological Well-Being of Military Spouses

By Wang, Mei-Chuan; Nyutu, Pius N. et al. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Finding Resilience: The Mediation Effect of Sense of Community on the Psychological Well-Being of Military Spouses


Wang, Mei-Chuan, Nyutu, Pius N., Tran, Kimberly K., Spears, Angela, Journal of Mental Health Counseling


The goal of this study was to identify positive factors that increase the psychological well-being of military spouses in the areas of environmental mastery. We proposed that positive affect and social support from family and friends would have indirect effects on psychological well-being through their association with a greater sense of community with the military culture. Participants were 207 female spouses of active-duty service members. Data were analyzed using MEDIATE to test the mediational effect. Results indicated that social support from friends and positive affect did predict a sense of community, which in turn was associated with increased feelings of psychological well-being. The findings suggest that a perceived sense of military community helps military spouses gain a sense of mastery and control in a constantly changing environment.

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The military lifestyle is a unique culture that is often an amalgamation of both opportunities and challenges. Currently, there are 3.6 million members serving in the United States military. It is estimated that at least half of these are married, and about 44% of active-duty members have children (Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, 2012). It is well-documented that the military lifestyle can be challenging to service member marriages and families (Karny & Crown, 2007). The families endure frequent separations because of overseas deployments, stateside schools, and training assignments. They also repeatedly experience disruptions to their living locations, housing, schools, and employment due to permanent changes in station. Often, spouses must bear the entire workload of caring for children and the home when their partner is away for military service. Moreover, military families often have to live far away from extended family or established community support (Klein, Tatone, & Lindsey, 2001; Padden, Connors, & Agazio, 2011).

Recent studies have revealed an increasing number of mental health problems among military spouses (Mansfield et al., 2010; Steelfisher, Zaslavsky, & Blendon, 2008). However, relatively little is known about what factors help increase their psychological well-being and resilience.

Psychological Well-Being: Environmental Mastery

Environmental mastery is defined as an individual's sense of control over decision-making arising from active creation of an environment conducive to positive mental health and advancement. Individuals high in environmental mastery typically regard themselves as having control and competence in handling external challenges (Ryff, 1989). Those who have less environmental mastery perceive themselves to be unable to control their surroundings, with little choice of the circumstances of life and without the ability to change their environment. Environmental mastery has been found to have an inverse relationship with psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, among older adults (Jang, Haley, Small, Mortimer, 2002; Knight, Davison, McCabe, & Mellor, 2011; Korte, Cappeliez, Bohlmeijer, & Westerhof, 2012; Ryff & Keyes, 1995). It is therefore important to find factors that support military spouse environmental mastery and buffer against stressors they and their families experience due to constant change.

Sense of Community and Social Support

Sense of community has been described as the feelings or perception of belonging to a larger dependable and stable structure (Sarason, 1974). McMillan and Chavis (1986) elaborated sense of community as having four major elements: (a) membership, the feeling of belonging to the group; (b) influence, how much a person feels he or she matters to the group; (c) integration and fulfillment of needs, how much being a member fulfills personal needs; and (d) shared emotional connection--the common experiences group members have.

Community exists as two entities. (1) It is a physical, territorial entity, such as a neighborhood. …

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