Psychological Resilience in West Point Graduates: Results From a Nationally Representative Study

Melissa M. Thomas*, Robert H. Pietrzak, Dana R. Nguyen, Diane Ryan, Steven M. Southwick, Carolyn M. Mazure

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The purpose of this study was to examine factors associated with psychological resilience in a nationally representative sample of West Point graduates. Aims: The aims of this study were to (a) employ a dimensional approach to operationalizing psychological resilience in a trauma-exposed population that had been highly trained and educated in persisting in the face of stress, was previously unstudied, and in which we could examine correlates of resilience, (b) identify key psychosocial factors, character traits, health variables, military experiences, and coping strategies as potential correlates of psychological resilience; and (c) examine whether reported gender moderated any of these associations in this population. Methods: A nationally representative sample of 1342 West Point graduates after gender integration from classes 1980 to 2011 were surveyed. Psychological resilience was operationalized using a discrepancy-based approach in which a measure of composite psychological distress (current posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety and depression symptoms) was regressed on measures of cumulative trauma burden. A multivariable linear regression model was then employed to identify factors that were independently associated with psychological resilience scores. Results: Purpose in life (29.8% of relative variance explained [RVE]), fewer perceived negative experiences in the military (20.6% RVE), social support (9.6% RVE), and grit (9.5% RVE) were the strongest correlates of psychological resilience scores for both women and men. Time in service was positively associated with resilience in women only. Conclusion: This study identifies key correlates of psychological resilience in West Point graduates, individuals who are highly trained to persevere in the face of stress and then were trauma-exposed. Most of these factors are modifiable and can be targeted in stress prevention and treatment interventions, especially for high-stress professions such as the military, frontline health care providers, and first responders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChronic Stress
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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