The Longitudinal Impact of Gratitude and Hope on PTSD and Well-Being in U.S. Armed Forces Veterans
United States (U.S.) Armed Forces veterans face stressors that are unique to their military experience. Combat and military sexual trauma are two common stressors that can lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although base rates of PTSD diagnoses in veterans are higher compared to other populations, most veterans who report experiencing military-related stressors do not develop PTSD. The absence of PTSD is indicative of underlying factors that protect veterans’ overall state of mental health. Two factors shown to promote well-being and predict lower levels of PTSD are gratitude and hope. There has yet to be an exploration of both related, yet distinct sources of resilience in veterans. The present study is a longitudinal examination of the unique effects of hope and gratitude on well-being and PTSD in veterans. Data were collected from a longitudinal study targeting U.S. veterans (n=218) across three waves using the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). The current study used six latent cross-lagged panel models to examine separate relationships between one source of resilience (hope or gratitude) and one mental health outcome (well-being or PTSD) as well as the unique effects of hope and gratitude and each mental health outcome. Results demonstrated a bidirectional relationship between gratitude and PTSD during the first two waves. Small cross-lagged associations between hope and PTSD were also found. Both hope and gratitude at wave 2 were positively predicted by well-being and in turn, promoted even greater levels of well-being at wave 3. When placed in the same model, hope at wave 1 predicted greater PTSD at wave 2 whereas initial gratitude predicted lower PTSD at wave 2, which appeared to promote reduction in gratitude at the last wave. Findings suggest that PTSD and gratitude influence each other over time and hope and gratitude appear to broaden and build upon well-being. This study provides support for the separate and unique roles that gratitude and hope may have in reducing PTSD symptoms and increasing overall well-being in a military-connected population.