U.S. soldiers and foreign language school: Stressors and health

Maurice L. Sipos, Alexa A. Lopez, Jennifer Nyland, Maura R. Taylor, Jennifer McDonald, Matthew L. Lopresti, Oscar A. Cabrera, Amy B. Adler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: While previous studies have examined the stress of the military training environment, studies have not systematically examined the stress associated with attending the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC). Service members assigned to DLIFLC endure intense academic pressure to succeed while meeting military requirements. Thus, not only are traditional academic stressors likely to be of concern but there are other academic and military-related stressors that have to managed by students. The goal of the present study was to characterize the stressors facing military students, document their mental health status and well-being, and identify mitigating factors such as coping, social support, time management, and the classroom environment. Materials and Methods: Data were obtained from a cross-sectional survey administered in March of 2016. Study participants were 759 active-duty U.S. soldiers enrolled in DLIFLC, with a consent rate of 87.7%. Surveys were administered in classroom settings. Survey topics included demographics, student experience (e.g., classroom hours, stressors), mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety, hazardous alcohol use) and burnout, and mitigating factors (e.g., coping, social support, time management, classroom environment). Multiple logistic regressions were used to identify which variables in the predictor set were significantly associated with each of the five outcomes while controlling for the presence of all other variables. Results: In terms of behavioral health, 7.2% met screening criteria for depression, 9.4% for anxiety, and 17.1% for hazardous alcohol use; 43.4% reported high/very high levels of burnout. About one-third of the sample who had taken a test failed at least one (32.2%). In terms of common stressors more than half reported high or very high-stress levels from meeting academic expectations, not getting enough sleep, and pressure to succeed from civilian language instructors. For depression and anxiety, regression results found that denial coping was a risk factor whereas positive social interaction and classroom climate were protective factors. For hazardous alcohol use, denial coping and higher rank were risk factors and acceptance and time management were protective factors. In terms of academic burnout, in-class and military work hours were risk factors, whereas time management and classroom climate were protective. Finally, lower educational attainment, time spent in the classroom and times spent on military duties predicted exam failure. Conclusion: Individual coping, social connection, and classroom climate are each associated with better DLIFLC student adjustment. Denial coping appears to impede individuals from assembling the personal resources needed to study a foreign language. In contrast, acceptance appears to support healthier adjustment, perhaps freeing individuals to focus on the task at hand rather than expend valuable energy resisting the demands being placed on them. Positive social interaction also appears to provide an important resource for students, and positive classroom climate is also associated with better mental health. These findings suggest that there are measures that individuals and the school can take to improve the DLIFLC experience and support students as they manage a myriad of stressors given the significance of their success to individual students and to the larger organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberusy359
Pages (from-to)E344-E352
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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