Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Feeling Strong Sense of Purpose May Protect Older Veterans From Mental Illness

Older veterans who say they have a strong sense of purpose in life may be less likely to experience a range of mental disorders compared with those with those lacking such a sense of purpose, according to a report in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Perceived purpose in life refers to the extent to which a person believes that his or her life is motivated by goals and aims that they care about, Ian C. Fischer, Ph.D., of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and colleagues wrote. The “[r]esults of this study suggest that existing interventions that have been shown to increase [purpose in life] may have the potential to help mitigate risk for, and alleviate symptoms of, various mental disorders,” they added.

Data were drawn from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study (NHRVS), a survey of 4,069 U.S. veterans, the majority of whom were 60 years and older, White, and male. The NHRVS was administered between November 18, 2019, and March 8, 2020, and all participants completed an anonymous, 50-minute, web-based survey. As part of this survey, veterans completed the four-item Purpose in Life Test Short Form and were screened for mental disorders and suicidality.

The researchers broke the participants into three groups: those who endorsed a high purpose in life, average purpose in life, or low purpose in life.

Most participants (71.7%) endorsed average levels of perceived purpose in life; 16% endorsed low purpose in life and 12.4% endorsed high purpose in life. High purpose in life was associated with 42% to 94% reduced odds of screening positive for major depressive, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance use disorders, as well as suicidality, Fischer and colleagues wrote.

“Given the ‘dose-response’ relationship found between purpose in life and a broad range of mental health outcomes, purpose in life may be an important transdiagnostic prevention and treatment target,” they concluded.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Interventions That Promote Wisdom May Help Patients With Psychiatric Conditions.”

(Image: iStock/SDI Productions)

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