The cortisol awakening response and combat exposure during military deployment as predictors for burnout: Prospective Research Into Stress in Military Operations
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Objective The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and the amount of combat exposure were predictors for burnout in a military sample. The CAR and burnout scores before and six months after deployment were also examined. Based on previous research, participants were hypothesized to have a lower CAR and higher burnout scores after deployment. We also expect that the number of combat related events during deployment is a significant predictor for burnout scores after deployment. Finally we expect that the CAR is a significant predictor for burnout scores after deployment. Method Participants are measured before deployment and six months after deployment. The sample consisted of 62 participants from the Dutch military who left for deployment to Afghanistan between April 2005 and November 2006. Burnout was assessed with the Utrechtse Burnout Schaal (UBOS) and combat exposure was measured with the Deployment exposure Scale (DES). The cortisol awakening response was analyzed from saliva. Hierarchical multiple regressions were used to perform statistic analysis. Results The prevalence of burnout was 9.84 % before deployment and 20 % after deployment. The CAR was significantly lower after deployment than before. After deployment, the CAR (AUC) explained 9.3 % of the variance in UBOS-subscale exhaustion. The DES explained 7.8 % of the variance in UBOS-subscale competence. Discussion The prevalence of burnout in our sample doubled after deployment. One out of every five participants met the criteria for burnout after deployment. A higher cortisol awakening response before deployment is a predictor for higher burnout scores six months after deployment. Furthermore, the more combat related events a person experienced, the less competent they felt six months after deployment.