Abstract: Social Support in Active Duty Army Networks: Roles, Relationships, and Implications for Soldier Wellbeing (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Social Support in Active Duty Army Networks: Roles, Relationships, and Implications for Soldier Wellbeing

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 1 - Room 443, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Nicholas Barr, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Laura Petry, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Anthony Fulginiti, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Anil Arora, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Julie Cederbaum, MSW, MPH, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Eric Rice, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Military service is an inherently demanding and stressful occupation, requiring extended work hours, teamwork, complex task performance, and time away from family and civilian social support networks during training and deployment cycles. Social support is a critical determinant of service members’ mental and behavioral health outcomes, but few studies have investigated social support types and sources in the context of the mixed civilian and military social networks in which service members are embedded. To better understand links between individual level characteristics, sources of social support, and support subtypes, the present study adopted a multi-level modelling (MLM) approach to investigating active-duty Army Soldiers’ social networks and social support outcomes. The specific aims of the study were to model and understand bivariate and multivariate associations between Soldier’s (1) individual level demographic and military characteristics (e.g. rank, unit cohesion) and (2) network-alter level relational characteristics (e.g. spouse, deployment buddy) and multidimensional social support outcomes.

Methods: A sample of 241 active-duty U.S. Army personnel was recruited from one domestically stationed battalion in 2019. Soldiers completed both a self-report questionnaire and a social network interview that gathered information about people and relationships in their social networks (relational-level information). A two-step model building process was used for each of four social support outcomes (informational, emotional, tangible, mental health help-seeking). First, univariable multilevel logistic regression analyses examined unadjusted associations between independent variables and social support outcomes. Second, a multivariable multilevel logistic regression analysis including independent variables significant in univariable analyses was conducted for each social support outcome.

Results: Multivariable results showed that greater unit cohesion was linked to greater odds of receiving informational, emotional, and help-seeking support. Participants had greater odds of receiving informational (OR= 3.16; 95% CI[2.04, 4.88]), emotional (OR= 13.25; 95% CI[7.25, 24.22]), and help-seeking (OR= 5.63;95% CI[2.76, 11.46]) support from a romantic partner than a relative and greater odds of receiving informational (OR= 2.54;95% CI[1.05, 6.17]) and emotional support (OR= 8.36; 95% CI[2.24, 31.18]) from someone with whom they deployed than a relative. Participants had lower odds of receiving tangible support from a military peer with whom they had not deployed than a relative (OR= 0.29; 95% CI[0.15, 0.55]). Participants had lower odds of receiving help-seeking support from males than females (OR= 0.65; 95% CI[0.48, 0.89]).

Conclusion: Results showed that Soldiers’ perceptions of social support were nuanced and conditioned on relationship status. Romantic partners were crucial sources of informational, emotional, and help-seeking support, highlighting the importance of these relationships in facilitating service members’ access to care. However, participants were less likely to receive tangible support from a military peer with whom they had not deployed compared to a relative, indicating that in-unit relationships were not necessarily sources of support. Male network members were less likely to be sources of support across all four domains, suggesting that women in Soldiers’ lives were disproportionate providers of support. Results highlight the critical importance of relationships beyond the unit level, including romantic partners and previous deployment buddies, despite strains placed on these relationships by Army life.