Promoting Mental Health in Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis

Spring 2022

Military & Veterans
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Beatrice Lee

Section Editor: Emre Umucu

WHILE ALMOST ONE MILLION INDIVIDUALS in the United States have multiple sclerosis (MS; National Multiple Sclerosis Society [NMSS], 2022a), there is no accurate estimation of prevalence or incidence for Veterans with MS because only 40% receive their care from the VA Health Care System VHA (NMSS, 2022b). With its variability in symptom manifestation and disease course, MS can also affect various aspects of mental and physical health (Bambara et al., 2011). According to a systematic review and meta-analysis, the prevalence rate of depression was 30.5% and 22.1% for anxiety for people with MS (Boeschoten et al., 2017). Given that depression and anxiety are common in MS (Koelmel et al., 2017) and that the presence of psychological conditions can impact one’s disease, well-being, and quality of life (Hanna & Strober, 2020), it is imperative to identify protective positive psychological factors that can promote positive mental health in people with MS. Rather than focusing on deficits and impairments, positive psychology emphasizes the importance of building positive qualities and strengths to allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Researchers have highlighted that strengthening psychological resources are crucial to psychosocial adjustment in people with MS (Calandri et al., 2017; Possa et al., 2017; Strober, 2018). Increasing research has examined the role of positive psychological resources (e.g., resilience, optimism, gratitude, social support) in MS. For instance, my research revealed that gratitude was positively associated with life satisfaction through lower levels of stress and mental health symptoms in people with MS (Lee, 2022). Resilience served as a mediator between social support and subsequent mental health outcomes in people with MS (Koelmel et al., 2017). We also found that optimism is positively associated with mental health and life satisfaction in people with MS (Lee et al., 2022). Perceived social support from friends led to reduced anxiety symptoms, which then decreased depressive symptoms (Henry et al., 2019).