Leadership and post-traumatic stress disorder: Are soldiers' perceptions of organizational justice during deployment protective?

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Background: Soldiers’ perception of leadership during military deployment has gained research attention as a potentially modifiable factor to buffer against the development of postdeployment post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within nonmilitary research, the organizational justice (OJ) framework, i.e. distributive justice, procedural justice (PJ) and interactional justice (IJ), has been found to relate to mental health outcomes. Aspects of OJ may, therefore, be protective against PTSD.

Objectives: We examined the prospective relationship between aspects of OJ, namely the perceptions of PJ and IJ by subordinate soldiers without leadership obligations in relationship to immediate superiors and PTSD.

Method: Participants were soldiers (n = 245) deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2009. Logistic regression procedures were used. The primary analysis measured PTSD cases using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR Axis-I Disorder (SCID) 2½ years after homecoming. PJ/IJ was measured during deployment with a 6-item composite measure ranging from 0 to 12. Supplementary primary analyses were performed with PJ/IJ measured before and immediately after deployment. A secondary PJ/IJ analysis also tested against four postdeployment measures with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist Civilian (PCL-C) dichotomized at screening symptom levels.

Results: Higher levels of perceived PJ/IJ for soldiers without leadership obligations during deployment had a prospective relation (OR = 0.86, 95% CI = 0.75–0.98) with PTSD on the SCID 2½ years after homecoming after adjustment for factors including predeployment PTSD symptoms, trauma and combat exposure, and state affectivity. Similar results were found by measuring PJ/IJ before (OR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.71–0.95) but not immediately after homecoming (OR = 0.97, 95% CI = 0.85–1.11). A relationship with PTSD symptoms at the screening level at the four measurements of PCL-C was found, but only when predeployment PTSD symptoms were not controlled for.

Conclusions: These results suggest that PJ/IJ exercised by superiors in relation to military deployments may protect subordinate soldiers against the development of postdeployment PTSD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1449558
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Volume9
Issue number1
ISSN2000-8066
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2018

    Research areas

  • Traumatic stress, military deployment, perception of leadership, procedural justice, interactional justice, alarm system perspective

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