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Power of mental resilience strongly exaggerated

Published: 07th May 2020 Last updated: 07th May 2020

There is no academic evidence to support the claim that military personnel who are mentally resilient are better protected against mental health and functioning problems than their colleagues who are less resilient. This is shown by a large meta-analysis of longitudinal studies on the subject, conducted by Tilburg University, CentERdata, and NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden. The link between resilience and subsequent symptoms and problems is negligible in military personnel.

In this analysis, the results of 40 international longitudinal studies among military personnel were compared and analysed. In the studies, it was investigated whether resilient military personnel were, for example, less likely to develop post-traumatic stress or depressive symptoms and functioning issues after some time than military personnel who were (much) less resilient. It concerned military personnel who had been deployed on peace-keeping missions or had participated in stressful military training.

Military personnel who are resilient report, among other things, that they can handle problems, are confident and optimistic, can persevere, are enthusiastic and determined, and have self-discipline and energy. The meta-analysis shows that they are not better protected against mental health and functioning problems than less resilient colleagues.

These findings run counter to the prevailing idea that mental resilience is an important factor in determining who is susceptible to mental health and functioning problems. In a recent review of studies among police officers, it was also concluded that there is no strong evidence that resilience has a protective effect. Across the board, it can be argued that the power of mental resilience is exaggerated. Resilience as a means to prevent mental and functioning issues should therefore be reconsidered.

Publication

The meta-analysis has just been published in the leading peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Science & Medicine: Erik van der Meulen, Peter G. van der Velden, Robbie C. van Aert & Marc J.P.M. van Veldhoven (2020). Longitudinal associations of psychological resilience with mental health and functioning among military personnel: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. Social Science & Medicine, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112814 .

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