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Study: mHealth Program Improves Mental Health Outcomes for Veterans

October 6, 2016
by Heather Landi
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A mobile and web-based wellness program employed by military veterans who had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan had a positive impact on mental health and wellness outcomes, according to study by researchers in the department of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

Veterans with a history of deployment in the global war on terror face ongoing and significant challenges with high prevalence of adverse psychological, physical, spiritual and family impacts, according to researchers. “Together, these challenges contribute to an emerging public health crisis likely to extend well into the future. Innovative approaches are needed that reach veterans and their family members with strategies they can employ over time in their daily lives to promote improved adjustment and well-being,” Janet Kahn, Ph.D., a researcher with the University of Vermont, College of Medicine, department of psychiatry, wrote. Kahn was the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers found that the use of a web-based and mobile wellness program had a significant impact on improving posttraumatic stress disorder and depression for military veterans, and their partners, and could be an accessible, low-cost approach that supports veterans’ well-being and mental health.

Khan and the research team sought to evaluate the effects of a web-based, self-directed program of instruction in mind- and body-based wellness skills to be employed by veterans and their significant relationship partners on mental health outcomes associated with post-deployment readjustment.

For the study, researchers recruited 160 veteran-partner pairs in four regions, San Diego, Dallas, Fayetteville, N.C. and New York City, with a specific focus on veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the veteran-partner pairs were provided web-based and mobile app video and audio instruction in a set of mindfulness-related stress reduction and contemplative practices through the Mission Reconnect (MR) program. Some couples were provided the MR program alone, while some were provided the MR program along with the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) for Strong Bonds weekend program for military couples. Other couples were provided the PREP program alone and still others were put in the waitlist control group.

During the first eight-week reporting period, veterans and partners assigned to the Mission Reconnect program used some aspect of the program a mean of 20 times per week, totaling nearly 2.5 hours per week, with only modest declines in use at 16 weeks. “Significant improvements were seen at eight and 16 weeks in measures of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, sleep quality, perceived stress, resilience, self-compassion, and pain for participants assigned to Mission Reconnect,” the study authors wrote.

The study authors concluded that both veterans and partners were able to learn and make sustained use of a range of wellness practices taught in the program.

“Home-based, self-directed interventions may be of particular service to veterans who are distant from, averse to, or prohibited by schedule from using professional services,” the study authors wrote.

Use of a mobile and web-based, self-directed program can be an accessible, low-cost approach that supports well-being and reduces multiple symptoms among post-9/11 veterans and their partners, the study authors concluded.

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