Purdue University Graduate School

Depression Vulnerability and Resilience Among Service Members and Veterans

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Depression Vulnerability and Resilience Among Service Members and Veterans

posted on 2022-12-09, 20:25 authored by Elizabeth C CoppolaElizabeth C Coppola


Post-9/11 military service have been marked by a surge in large-scale combat deployments, characterized by deployments that are longer, with shorter periods of ‘dwell time’, and with a high reliance on the reserve component. Many service members and veterans (SMV) demonstrated resilience during this era by adapting successfully to these demands, meanwhile others experienced difficulty coping with stress and deployment-related exposures at some point. Limitations in existing research—including observations from single time points without the benefit of prospective data—complicates the understanding of the impact of military experience, as an early adult turning point, on well-being. The overarching goal of this study is to contribute to the literature assessing the impact of military service on depression trajectories across the transition into adulthood and into mid-life. Specific goals include informing our understanding of 1) the features of depression trajectories from adolescence to middle adulthood, i.e., from pre- to post-military life among those entering the military in young adulthood, compared to their civilian peers; 2) the importance of sociodemographic factors—including characteristics in the family of origin and indicators of social identity—in shaping depression trajectories and the extent to which their effects vary by SMV or civilian roles, and (3) the impact of pre-existing (childhood) risk and resilience factors on depression trajectories and whether their impact varies by SMV or civilian role. Results found that SMVs had lower depression symptoms prior to and at the time of enlistment, relative to civilians, before increasing later in life. Differences between civilians’ and SMVs’ depression trajectories narrowed after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, although SMVs had lower levels of depression than civilians from their 20s into their early 30s. Childhood risk and resilience factors significantly explained variance above and beyond sociodemographic factors for both SMVs and civilians across configurations (i.e., unique and cumulative models), with resilience factors in the family domain yielding particularly large effects with depression trajectories for both SMVs and civilians. Collectively these findings point to the potential for military service to function as a social determinant of health, the family domain as a key target for prevention and intervention, the continued relevance of resilience factors in the face of risk, and the need for the continued study of risk and resilience throughout the life course. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Human Development and Family Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Sharon L. Christ

Additional Committee Member 2

Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth

Additional Committee Member 3

Laura Schwab Reese

Additional Committee Member 4

Zoe Taylor

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