Researchers demonstrate the effects of military-related posttraumatic stress on academic adjustment through impairments in veterans' relationships with family and friends. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by traumatic military experiences is associated with feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness and/or guilt. New Penn State research is evaluating how PTSD symptoms increase risks for academic difficulties as well.

The study published in the journal Psychological TraumaMany of these former service members are experiencing posttraumatic stress symptoms secondary to their military service, and these symptoms are associated with academic difficulties.

There is extensive literature demonstrating that PTSD symptoms can cause disruptions in trauma survivors' close relationships. However, less is known about ways that these relationship problems can, in turn, affect other domains of trauma survivors' adjustment, such as students' academic functioning.

For the study, they examined data from a large, national sample of students seeking mental health services while enrolled in college. The data were collected from college- or university-based counseling centers affiliated with the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH).

They looked at a subsample of over 2,000 student service members and veterans, then further divided them into four groups based on relationship status and gender, including both partnered and non-partnered women, and partnered and non-partnered men. They found that, for all groups, military-related posttraumatic stress was associated with greater family distress and lower support from friends and acquaintances and that these difficulties were, in turn, associated with higher academic dysfunction.

Further, the effect of PTSD symptoms on academic dysfunction was strongest for partnered women compared to the other three groups and was due to a greater influence of family problems on partnered women's academic adjustment.

Researchers theorize partnered women's tendencies to "tend and befriend" when under stress may make them especially susceptible to the negative impacts of relationship problems on other areas of their lives, including academic functioning.

Posttraumatic Stress

Partnered women who are already struggling with the effects of posttraumatic stress and its impact on their relationships may be working extra hard to manage those relationships, leaving less time and fewer emotional resources to devote to their studies.

In the future, Fredman would like to expand the project to determine which aspects of student veterans' close relationships are most closely associated with academic success or challenges and to develop and test interventions that simultaneously improve PTSD symptoms, interpersonal relationship adjustment, and academic functioning.

Their ultimate goal is to develop interventions that can be delivered during critical transitional periods, such as the college years, that can serve as a unique window of opportunity to help trauma survivors address these difficulties so that they can fully benefit from their education and lead happier and healthier lives.