NMRC Investigates Predictors of Psychological Well-Being among Junior Enlisted Sailors

Story Number: NNS190822-05Release Date: 8/22/2019 3:01:00 PM
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From Naval Medical Research Center Public Affairs

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) and Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory (NSMRL) scientists presented their research titled, “Predictors of Psychological Well-Being among Junior Enlisted Sailors” during the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) in Kissimmee, Florida Aug. 21.

They explained how their research was designed to give them a better understanding of the qualities and characteristics that define risk, and resiliency to stress in nuclear operators. Their goal was to not only identifying Sailors at risk of becoming unplanned personnel losses, but to also recognize those who will go on to have successful careers. The areas of risk and resilience identified will target intervention in future work to retain as many qualified and capable Sailors as possible through their career lifecycle.

According to Justin Handy, Ph.D., a research psychologist at NSMRL, “Enlisted members of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion community are trained to operate nuclear reactors that power submarines and aircraft carriers to ensure the Navy possesses the flexibility, agility and endurance required to maintain maritime superiority in the face of modern and evolving threats,” he said. “Given myriad deployment and occupation-related stressors; including high operational tempos, disturbed sleep schedules, and austere living conditions, psychological resilience is imperative for these Sailors to be successful.”

The study recognized attrition due to stress coping failures having significant consequences for manning and fleet readiness, in addition to the high financial cost to the Navy for training in these specialized fields.

“This study was the first of a multi-phase effort and the first longitudinal assessment to define intrapersonal and interpersonal factors predicting early career success in prospective nuclear operators,” said Lt. Cmdr. F.J. Haran, Ph.D., NMRC research psychologist. “This research is the first stage of this effort, and was designed to provide a preliminary first-look at the cohort of junior enlisted Sailors.”

A cohort of 461 junior enlisted Sailors were assessed via survey when they first reported to Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC). They were measured for their hardiness, sense of social connectedness, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, experience of negative emotions, introversion, theories of intelligence (i.e., to the degree they perceive intelligence to be rigid versus malleable with experience), coping styles (adaptive vs. maladaptive), childhood family relationships, and previous wrongdoing in the workplace. Responses to the survey were considered in relation to the Sailor’s subjective level of psychological well-being or fitness.

“This measure gave us a snapshot of each Sailor’s mental health profile when they entered into the training pipeline, which we compared to normative values from the general population,” said Haran. “In addition, we assessed to the degree the intrapersonal and interpersonal factors measured predicted whether they were demonstrating better or poorer self-reported psychological well-being.”

Haran, Handy, and their colleagues conclude junior enlisted Sailors entering the nuclear training command generally demonstrated a high degree of psychological well-being and exceeded normal population values on most scales.

“Among those Sailors expressing poorer psychological well-being, several intrapersonal and interpersonal factors surveyed as part of the study emerged as potential risk factors, such as their use of maladaptive coping strategies, i.e., avoidance, self-distraction, denial, when trying to adjust to a challenging environment or situation,” he said. “Protective factors included high trait hardiness, greater social connectedness, and greater mindfulness.”

Currently the researchers await further academic outcome data as the cohort of Sailors progress through the training. Haran says intrapersonal and interpersonal factors collected during the first phase of the study, prior to the Sailors beginning their training, will be used to construct predictive models of early career milestones i.e., completion of Nuclear Field “A” School, Power School, Prototype, and warfare device qualifications.

“These results will inform ongoing efforts to update and refine the screening/selection procedures used for prospective nuclear operators,” said Haran.

About Naval Medical Research Center

NMRC's eight laboratories are engaged in a broad spectrum of activity from basic science in the laboratory to field studies at sites in austere and remote areas of the world to operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint U.S. warfighters, researchers study infectious diseases, biological warfare detection and defense, combat casualty care, environmental health concerns, aerospace and undersea medicine, medical modeling, simulation and operational mission support, and epidemiology and behavioral sciences.

About Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory 

NSMRL provides research solutions to the most medically challenging platform in the Navy, the US Submarine. NSMRL serves the submarine fleet by taking the lead in undersea human factors, sensory sciences, and operational medicine, delivering timely evidenced-based healthcare solutions. NSMRL is the Department of Defense's First Choice in Undersea Biomedical Research.


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NMRC Investigates Predictors of Psychological Well-Being among Junior Enlisted Sailors
Justin Handy, Ph.D., a research psychologist at NSMRL, goes into detail on how the collaborative research between NMRC and NSMRL recognized attrition due to stress coping failures having significant consequences for manning and fleet readiness, in addition to the high financial cost to the Navy for training in these specialized fields.
August 22, 2019
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