Enhancing Mental Readiness in Military Personnel

  • Thompson M
  • McCreary D
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Abstract

With psychological injuries accounting for between 10-50% of operational casualties, there is consistent evidence that adequate psychological preparation for deployments is a vital operational requisite. Beyond the psychological costs to soldiers, empirical results also indicate that the stressors found in military contexts can contribute to errors in judgement and performance, reducing operational effectiveness. Thus, the development of training programs that successfully prepares personnel for the psychological rigors of operations, in addition to the physical and technical demand, are important for operational effectiveness and maintaining the well-being of individual military personnel. Although many militaries provide stress management briefings, the ultimate effectiveness of these briefings can be hampered by at least three factors. First, these presentations are typically a fairly academic discussion of a generic stress model presented in lecture formats that are totally distinct from operational training. This may make the lessons inherent in stress briefings seem unrelated to soldiers’ experiences. Second, there is virtually no practical training associated with traditional stress management briefings. A final, yet fundamental issue is, of course, the existence of the pervasive stigma associated with mental health issues. All of these factors may contribute to a general resistance toward, and/or denial of, the relevance of this information. Despite these individual and cultural pejoratives that undermine the acceptance of this training, militaries must address the issue of developing psychological resiliency in their personnel. The challenge, then, is to incorporate the important principles of stress management into training in ways that are engaging and relevant to military audiences, and that do not cause psychological reactance due to stigma-related attitudes. In this paper we explore how the psychological literature on stress and coping might inform military training programs to enhance “mental readiness”[1, p. 743] as a method to develop the baseline psychological resiliency of military personnel. Accordingly, mental readiness training involves an integrated approach, infusing the principles of emotional, cognitive and behavioral control in the context of realistic military training. More specifically, in selected training situations, instructors would note physiological and cognitive responses to stress, how these responses may affect soldiers’ reactions, and the decisions made and the course of action taken, as well as how these factors interact. Trainers also would provide instruction in the techniques of maintaining cognitive and emotional control in situ, demonstrating these techniques as required until a specific level of proficiency is achieved. In this way, the valuable lessons and training points of stress management are more intrinsically applicable and salient to soldiers, the techniques more contiguously practiced, and the benefits of these techniques more immediately experienced in operationally relevant contexts. Thus, integrating these principles and tools into relevant training opportunities encourages the reflexive application of mental readiness responses in the same way that technical proficiencies become reflexive in military contexts. We review two studies that have particular application to a mental readiness approach. We conclude with a discussion of specific training issues relevant to mental readiness preparation, and the placement of mental readiness training in the continuum of military mental health training, services and programs.

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Authors

  • Megan M Thompson

  • Donald R McCreary

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