Exploring the role of social connection in interventions with military veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Systematic narrative review

Richard Gettings*, Jenna Kirtley, Gemma Wilson-Menzfeld, Gavin Oxburgh, Derek Farrell, Matt Kiernan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Background: It has been identified that military veterans have distinct experiences of loneliness and social isolation and, when comparing this community to other client groups with a PTSD diagnosis, veterans respond less favourably to treatment. However, the link between PTSD and loneliness for veterans remains insufficiently researched and it is unclear if there are effective interventions tackling this distinct experience of loneliness.

Aims: This systematic narrative review aimed to synthesize existing evidence incorporating elements of social connection, social isolation, and loneliness within interventions for military veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD, consequently aiming to examine the impact of such interventions upon this community.

Methods: Six databases were searched, utilising relevant search criteria, with no date restrictions. Articles were included if they involved intervention or treatment for military veterans with PTSD and considered elements of social connection, social isolation, and/or loneliness. The initial search returned 202 papers. After exclusions, removal of duplications, and a reference/citation search, 28 papers remained and were included in this review.

Results: From the 28 studies, 11 directly addressed social isolation and two studies directly addressed loneliness. Six themes were generated: (i) rethinking the diagnosis of PTSD, (ii) holistic interventions, (iii) peer support, (iv) social reintegration, (v) empowerment through purpose and community, and (vi) building trust.

Conclusions: A direct focus upon social reintegration and engagement, psychosocial functioning, building trust, peer support, group cohesiveness and empowerment through a sense of purpose and learning new skills may mitigate experiential loneliness and social isolation for veterans with PTSD. Future research and practice should further explore the needs of the PTSD-diagnosed veteran community, seek to explore and identify potential common routes towards the development of PTSD within this community and consider bespoke interventions for tackling loneliness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Jun 2022


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