Cover: Information and Communication Technologies to Promote Social and Psychological Well-Being in the Air Force

Information and Communication Technologies to Promote Social and Psychological Well-Being in the Air Force

A 2012 Survey of Airmen

Published Aug 25, 2014

by Laura L. Miller, Laurie T. Martin, Douglas Yeung, Matthew Trujillo, Martha J. Timmer

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Posted on November 19, 2014.

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Research Questions

  1. What are the ICT usage rates among Airmen?
  2. Are social support and well-being related to ICT use?
  3. What are Airmen's attitudes about seeking and receiving health information and care via ICT?
  4. What do Airmen see as the overall impact of ICT on their well-being?
  5. How can the Air Force leverage ICT to promote the social and psychological well-being of Airmen?

This report presents the findings from a pioneering exploratory survey of 3,479 active-duty, guard, and reserve Airmen on their use of information and communication technology (ICT), the association between ICT use and social and psychological well-being, and the potential for Air Force mental-health professionals to use ICT to meet the needs of Airmen. The survey data were weighted to ensure that the analytic sample would be representative of the gender, age group, rank (officer, enlisted), and affiliation (active, guard, reserve) composition of the U.S. Air Force. Rates of ICT usage by Airmen are presented, along with Airmen's perceptions of the relationship between social support and ICT use, their attitudes about seeking and receiving health information via technology, and the differences in ICT use, social support, and psychological well-being among different groups of Airmen. Finally, recommendations are presented on ways the Air Force can leverage ICT to promote the social and psychological well-being of Airmen.

Key Findings

Airmen typically use ICT to augment interactions with others, and many seek health information online but need help evaluating its quality

  • As in the general population, Airmen typically use ICTs to augment interactions with real-world friends, family, and other Airmen, not to replace them.
  • More than 30,000 Airmen may be facing serious difficulties due to their poorly controlled and disruptive Internet use; prior research suggests that such behaviors may not simply reflect a lack of self-discipline — they may be a sign of more serious mental-health issues.
  • Airmen seek and use online mental-health information but need help evaluating its quality.
  • Most Airmen prefer face-to-face communication with health professionals, but a sizable minority may prefer ICT alternatives.

Recommendations

  • Promote policies that permit nondisruptive on-duty access to ICT to help strengthen family ties, social support networks, and well-being.
  • Enhance strategic communication plans to increase Airmen's awareness of mental-health resources, encourage responsible help-seeking, and decrease the stigma of mental-health care.
  • Continue to support access to ICTs during deployment.
  • Educate leaders that ICT "addiction" may be a sign of broader problems and encourage appropriate referrals.
  • Educate Airmen about how to recognize signs of problematic Internet use and what resources are available to help them address it.
  • Teach Airmen how to protect themselves against and respond to cyberbullying.
  • Provide basic guidelines for identifying credible websites and directing them to credible sources.
  • Develop/leverage alternative communication modes to supplement, but not replace, face-to-face interaction between Airmen and mental-health-care professionals.
  • Integrate into Air Force suicide-prevention training information about the potential role of ICT for identifying suicide risk factors and options for responding to suicidal messages.
  • Explore targeted mental-health outreach through ICT during deployment.
  • Explore through further research the experiences, needs, and attitudes of Airmen experiencing problematic Internet use.
  • Explore through further research how Airmen in distress use ICT and thus potentially intervene and save lives.
  • Explore through further research how Airmen would like to use ICT for mental-health support, for what types of problems, and why.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Office of the Surgeon General (AF/SG) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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