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Unit cohesion and social support as protective factors against suicide risk and depression among National Guard Service members

APA Citation:

Rugo, K.F., Leifker, F. R., Drake-Brooks, M. M., Snell, M. B., Bryan, C. J., & Bryan, A. O. (2020). Unit cohesion and social support as protective factors against suicide risk and depression among National Guard service members. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 39(3), 214-228. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2020.39.3.214

Abstract Created by REACH:

National Guard Service members tend to have a higher risk for mental health difficulties, especially suicide risk, compared to active-duty and Reserve members. This study examined social support (i.e., feeling valued, like someone cares, and that others will help in times of need) and unit cohesion (i.e., connection with fellow unit members) as protective factors against mental health issues— namely, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation—in a sample of 877 National Guard Service members. These Service members were from 40 different military units, so within-unit comparisons (differences between individuals who are part of the same unit) and between-unit comparisons (differences between units) were made. Social support appears to be a protective factor against depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation at the individual and unit levels.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Guard/Reserve member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study


Rugo, Kelsi F., Leifker, Feea R., Drake-Brooks, Malisa M., Snell, Michael B., Bryan, Craig J., Bryan, Annabelle O.


Introduction: Suicide and depression continue to be pervasive problems across military populations, including within the National Guard. Existing literature highlights the protective effects of social support and unit cohesion for both suicide risk and depression, yet to our knowledge, these associations have never been confirmed in National Guard populations. Thus, the aim of this study was to investigate the impacts of social support resources (i.e., general social support and unit cohesion) on depression and suicide risk among a large sample (n = 877) of National Guard service members.Methods: Multilevel modeling was used to examine the impact of social support resources on depression and suicide ideation at both the individual and unit level.Results: Results indicated that higher levels of perceived social support were associated with lower levels of depression and suicide ideation at both the individual and unit levels. Additionally, higher levels of perceived unit cohesion significantly predicted lower levels of depression and suicide ideation at the individual, but not unit level.Discussion: Limitations include self-report measurement and cross-sectional nature of the data. These findings hold implications for improvement of operational climate within military units and reduction of suicide risk and depressive symptoms among National Guard service members.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Guilford Press

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Psychology and National Center for Veterans Studies, The University of Utah, KFR


depression, National Guard, social support, suicide, unit cohesion

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  February 2021

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