Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Department

School of Public Health

First Advisor

Joan K. Monin

Abstract

Psychological concerns among United States veterans of all ages are considerable, however social support may help improve the mental health of these individuals. The protective effect of social support on mental health has been observed in older and younger samples of veterans, but it is unclear whether social support may be more beneficial at certain life stages. By assessing cross-sectional survey data from a large sample of veterans using an extreme groups approach (EGA), the impact of perceived support, structural support, and community integration on mental health difficulty and screening positive for a mental disorder was assessed. The effect of individual perceived social support items on mental health was also evaluated. Given evidence from the socio-emotional selectivity theory that older individuals place greater importance on close supportive relationships relative to younger individuals, we hypothesized that older veterans would benefit most from social support, especially from emotional-based types of support. There were significant interactions for age and support, with higher perceived support significantly reducing mental health difficulty and likelihood of screening positive for a mental disorder in the younger but not older group, while community integration decreased mental health difficulty in the older but not younger group. The positive social interaction item predicted lower mental health difficulty in the younger group, while the emotional/affectionate support predicted lower mental health difficulty in the older group. Although the results showed mixed support for the socio-emotional selectivity theory, identifying these differences in benefit from social support can help improve care for veteran populations throughout the life course.

Comments

This is an Open Access Thesis.

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