When the Dust Settles : Psychological Resilience among Swedish Veterans after Deployment in Afghanistan
Abstract: Sweden’s military involvement in Afghanistan has entailed the deployed soldiers’ exposure to high levels of stress and combat. As shown by a large number of studies, such experiences are associated with mental health problems. Resilience is an internationally recognized concept in striving to enhance military personnel’s well-being and in alleviating combat-related stress reactions, yet thus far, few studies have addressed the concept of resilience within the Swedish military context. The aim of this thesis is to identify processes connected with resilience in a sample of Swedish veterans who were exposed to combat involving military losses. A second objective is to examine how the veterans were affected from being in service and how they have handled stress over time. The theoretical framework is resilience, as well as bioecological systems theory and the concept of turning points. The results, which were generated through seven qualitative semi-structured interviews, indicate that the majority of the resilience processes operate within veterans’ immediate environment and receive momentum primarily through social relations. Unit members, family members, partners and close friends are identified as significant others. This thesis implies that utilized strategies within the Swedish military organization and recognition from Swedish society are of importance in mitigating or amplifying the negative effects of service. Among the interviewed veterans, deployment is generally experienced to be associated with perceived personal change, and physical exercise and solitary activities are suggested to lead to an enhanced ability to cope with stress and demands. However, deployment and the post-deployment transition also cause considerable strains for the veterans. The findings offer insights for the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) and mental health professionals into the resilience processes that soldiers experience, as well as into risks, recognition, extended decompression periods and health-promoting behaviors.
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