USU Study finds National Guard members remained psychologically resilient during pandemic response

Bethesda, Md. – The National Guard (NG) played a crucial role in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting communities nationwide with emergency outreach, setting up care facilities, working at testing sites, and distributing supplies, among many other demands. Simultaneously, these service members faced their own personal and family responses to the crisis. Still, they remained psychologically resilient, according to a new study led by the Uniformed Services University’s (USU) Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS). 

The first study, “National Guard Deployment in Support of COVID-19: Psychological and Behavioral Health,” was published online May 22 in Military Medicine. The second study, “COVID-19 Pandemic Responses among National Guard Service Members: Stressors, Coping Strategies, Sleep Difficulties and Substance Use,” was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on May 5.  

According to both studies, the researchers analyzed risk factors as well as protective factors, e.g., unit cohesion and leadership, knowing that these NG troops were at an increased risk for psychological responses – such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression – given the unique combination of challenges they faced during the pandemic.

The team of USU researchers surveyed 3,993 NG unit service members (75% Army National Guard, 79% enlisted, 52% 30-49 years old, and 81% males) who were activated for an average time of about 18 weeks during the pandemic. The surveys were completed two to three months post-activation, between August and November 2020. They queried the NG troops on their COVID-19 activation, unit cohesion, and leadership. The surveys also sought to determine probable PTSD and other clinical signs of anxiety, depression, and anger. 

The researchers found that, in all, less than 10% met the criteria for PTSD. Fewer than 8% reported clinically significant anxiety and depression, while 13.2% reported feeling angry or had anger outbursts. Ultimately, they found that COVID-19 activation itself was not associated with a greater risk of PTSD, anxiety and depression, or anger. Through the comments of the National Guard troops, they also identified the specific stress points and tasks that the guard faced in this public health emergency response. NG service members with low levels of unit cohesion and leadership were more likely to report PTSD and anger, and low levels of unit cohesion were associated with anxiety and depression. 

“Dr. Mash and colleagues’ two studies highlight the important role that leadership and cohesion play in resilience. For future study, these reports also identify the unique stressors and support elements described by guard members who were activated. Future work is needed to better understand the stress of specific tasks in such public health emergencies and how to prevent psychological and behavioral casualties in such activations,” said Dr. Robert Ursano, professor and director of USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

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About the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences: The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, founded by an act of Congress in 1972, is the nation’s federal health sciences university and the academic heart of the Military Health System. USU students are primarily active-duty uniformed officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service who receive specialized education in tropical and infectious diseases, TBI and PTSD, disaster response and humanitarian assistance, global health, and acute trauma care. USU also has graduate programs in oral biology, biomedical sciences and public health committed to excellence in research. The University’s research program covers a wide range of areas important to both the military and public health. For more information about USU and its programs, visit