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A Study Into Commanders’ Understanding Of, And Attitudes To, Stress And Stress-Related Problems
  1. Mr P Cawkill, BSc (Hons), MSc, SRN, RMN, Dip. Couns., C.Psychol., Senior Psychologist1
  1. 1Human Sciences Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Farnborough, Hants. GU14 0LX. (Dstl is an agency of the MoD) pecawkill{at}dstl.gov.uk

Abstract

Objectives To undertake a tri-Service questionnaire survey to examine the commanders’ understanding of, and attitudes to, stress and stress-related problems.

Methods A questionnaire was designed to elicit information on: Personal experience of stress and stress-related problems; Stress education; Pre-deployments briefings; and Post-incident stress debriefing. A total of 9,020 questionnaires were distributed between the three Services based on their proportional manning contribution to the Armed Forces as a whole. The population sampled ranged in rank from Corporal/Leading Rate up to, and including, Colonel/Captain RN/Group Captain (ranks below Leading Rate/Corporal were excluded because of their lack of command experience). The overall response rate was 55.8%. The study was carried out between September and December 2001 (i.e. pre-OP TELIC).

Results Chronic work-based stressors were seen as most stressful when compared with family and health stressors. Most respondents accepted that stress and stress-related problems exist, but were reluctant to disclose their own stressrelated problems or seek help for fear that it might be detrimental both personally and professionally. There was found to be little support from peers or commanders. Little stress training was provided during recruit training, there were gaps in pre-deployment briefings and little in the way of post-deployment stress support.

Conclusions Some of the more negative findings could have implications in terms of seeking help for stress-related problems at an early stage, which is counterproductive to the military’s genuine attempts to foster the psychological welfare of its employees. Some concerns could be alleviated by better and more timely stress education, preferably early on in a commander’s career, so that positive attitudes to stress and stressrelated problems can be formed and any negative attitudes changed, thereby bringing about a change in organisational culture in relation to stress. Some of the study’s concerns were addressed by the Operational Health Strategic Surveillance Committee which advised on operational health aspects of OP TELIC.

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