Level of perceived social support, and associated factors, in combat-exposed (ex-)military personnel: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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Combat deployment increases exposure to potentially traumatic events. Perceived social support (PSS) may promote health and recovery from combat trauma. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to synthesize studies investigating the level of PSS and associated factors among (ex-)military personnel who served in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts.

Five electronic databases were searched in August 2023 and searches were restricted to the beginning of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts in 2001. The search was conducted according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. A quality assessment was carried out, and a meta-analysis and narrative synthesis were performed.

In total, 35 papers consisting of 19,073 participants were included. Of these, 31 studies were conducted in the United States (US) and 23 were cross-sectional. The pooled mean PSS score was 54.40 (95% CI: 51.78 to 57.01). Samples with probable post-traumatic stress disorder had a lower mean PSS score (44.40, 95% CI: 39.10 to 49.70). Approximately half of the included studies (n = 19) investigated mental health in relation to PSS, whilst only four explored physical health. The most frequently reported risk factors for low PSS included post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, whilst post-traumatic growth and unit support were protective factors.

Higher levels of PSS were generally associated with more positive psychosocial and mental health-related outcomes following deployment. PSS should be targeted in psychosocial interventions and education programmes. Future research should investigate PSS in (ex-)military personnel across other countries and cultures, based on the lack of studies that focused on PSS in countries outside of the US.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2024


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