Toward preventing post-traumatic stress disorder: Development and testing of a pilot predeployment stress inoculation training program
The objective of this pilot study was to design, develop, and evaluate a predeployment stress inoculation training (PRESIT) preventive intervention to enable deploying personnel to cope better with combat-related stressors and mitigate the negative effects of trauma exposure. The PRESIT program consisted of three predeployment training modules: (1) educational materials on combat and operational stress control, (2) coping skills training involving focused and relaxation breathing exercises with biofeedback, and (3) exposure to a video multimedia stressor environment to practice knowledge and skills learned in the first two modules. Heart rate variability assessed the degree to which a subset of participants learned the coping skills. With a cluster randomized design, data from 351 Marines randomized into PRESIT and control groups were collected at predeployment and from 259 of these who responded to surveys on return from deployment. Findings showed that the PRESIT group reduced their physiological arousal through increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia during and after breathing training relative to controls. Logistic regression, corrected for clustering at the platoon level, examined group effects on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as measured by the Post-traumatic Stress Checklist after controlling for relevant covariates. Results showed that PRESIT protected against PTSD among Marines without baseline mental health problems. Although limited by a small number of participants who screened positive for PTSD, this study supports the benefits of PRESIT as a potential preventive strategy in the U.S. military personnel.