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Sense of threat among civilians who work in war zones

There is a lot of research that documents the mental health toll of combat operations on military personnel in Iraq, but little research examines civilians who work alongside members of the military. In this research, the authors argue that a sense of threat is an “ambient stressor” that permeates daily life among civilians who work in these war zones, with mastery likely to both mediate and moderate the mental health effects of this stressor. Using a unique probability sample of Department of Army civilians, they found out that threat is positively related to distress, but mastery mediates this relationship nonlinearly, with the indirect relationship between threat and distress strengthening as threat increases. The moderating function of mastery is also nonlinear, with moderate levels of mastery providing maximum stress buffering. This research suggests that contextual conditions of constraint can create nonlinearities in the way that mastery mediates and moderates the effects of ambient stressors.

Overall, the results present evidence showing that a sense of threat to life is a common experience for many DACs working in war zones. Although civilians who work for the military in areas of conflict do not engage in combat, they are often exposed to pernicious conditions that may have substantial consequences for psychological well-being. Individuals subject to these stressful experiences report greater internalizing distress and anger. These analyses also suggest that the relationship between threat and distress is in part indirect, with lower levels of mastery that are associated with higher levels of threat helping to explain the threat-distress relationship. Furthermore, the indirect association between threat and distress is stronger at higher levels of threat due to the nonlinear relationship between mastery and distress.

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