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Updated 11:00 AM November 1, 2004




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Program helps Navy recruits deal with stress of training

A program designed by a U-M professor to help Navy recruits cope with the emotional challenges of training improved their functioning, strengthened their training performance and reduced attrition.

Reg Williams, professor of nursing and psychiatry and a recently retired Naval reservist, designed what he calls "Boot Camp Survival Training for Navy Recruits—A Prescription," or BOOT STRAP for short. An article on the program appears in the October issue of Military Medicine.

BOOT STRAP involves weekly 45-minute meetings discussing ways to manage stress, strengthen relationships and improve a sense of belonging, among other goals. It also suggests specific strategies such as getting to know a shipmate better, practicing listening and not criticizing others.

"I've found in my work, it's the simple strategies that make a difference in dealing with stress," says Williams, whose research focuses on depression and mental health.

In an evaluation involving 801 recruits during the nine weeks of their training, Williams and his research team first assessed them to determine their risk for depression. The 25 percent who showed potential for depression were separated into groups either participating in BOOT STRAP or not, with the remaining 75 percent acting as a baseline for comparison.

Ultimately, 86 percent of those who went through BOOT STRAP finished recruit training, compared to 74 percent of the at-risk recruits who didn't go through the program. Of the recruits who were not at risk and didn't participate in BOOTSTRAP, 84 percent finished recruit training. Those who do not finish training are sent home, separated from the military.

"Depression, both as a predominate mood and as a cluster of cognitive, affective, behavioral and biological symptoms, is associated with separation from the Navy during recruit training," Williams' paper states. By helping recruits manage stress, BOOT STRAP helped them finish training.

Recruits were evaluated every week, and their scores showed statistically significant improvement compared to those who didn't participate. For instance, BOOT STRAP helped increase recruits' sense of belonging, as scored on a psychological test called SOBI-P, from an average of 46.94 to 52.2 during the course of the nine weeks.

"There's a reputation of military recruits being rough, tough and mean. First and foremost, they're human," Williams says. "Military training is difficult under the best of circumstances, and we set out to help them succeed.

"These volunteers wanted to help protect our country," Williams says. "This program provides them with some tools to do that, and also helps get them better prepared for life in general."

Williams collaborated with Bonnie Hagerty, associate professor of nursing at U-M; Steven Yousha, project site director at U-M; Julie Horrocks, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at University of Guelph; Kenneth Hoyle, director of medical services and head of the mental health department at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Ill.; and Dawei Liu, research assistant at U-M.

The project was funded by a $450,000, three-year grant from the TriService Nursing Research Program, which receives its funding via the Department of Defense. The research was sponsored by The TriService Nursing Research Program, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. But the information or content and conclusions do not necessarily represent the official position or policy of, nor should any official endorsement be inferred by, the TriService Nursing Research Program, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.

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