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.