Brief Report| Volume 31, ISSUE 2, P87-93, February 2023

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Perceived Purpose in Life, Mental Health, and Suicidality in Older U.S. Military Veterans: Results From the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study

Published:September 23, 2022DOI:


      • What is the primary question addressed by this study? What is the prevalence and potential mental health benefits of purpose in life in a nationally representative sample of older U.S. military veterans?
      • What is the main finding of this study? In this cross-sectional study (N = 4,069), most veterans endorsed average purpose in life (71.7%), while 16.0% endorsed low purpose in life and 12.4% endorsed high purpose in life. High purpose in life was associated with 42%–94% reduced odds of screening positive for major depressive, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance use disorders, as well as suicide attempts, ideation, and future intent.
      • What is the meaning of the finding? Given the “dose-response” relationship found between purpose in life and a broad range of mental health outcomes, purpose in life may be an important transdiagnostic prevention and treatment target.



      To determine the current prevalence of perceived purpose in life (PIL) and its association with screening positive for mental disorders and suicidality in a nationally representative sample of predominantly older U.S. veterans.


      Data were analyzed from the 2019–2020 National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study (N = 4,069; Mage = 62.2). Veterans were classified into three groups based on perceived PIL level (i.e., low, average, and high). Self-report assessments were administered to screen for mental disorders and suicidality.


      Most veterans endorsed average PIL (71.7%), while 16.0% endorsed low PIL and 12.4% endorsed high PIL. A “dose-response” association was observed between PIL and outcomes. High PIL was associated with 42%–94% reduced odds of screening positive for major depressive, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance use disorders, as well as suicide attempts, ideation, and future intent.


      Higher PIL is associated with lower odds of mental disorders and suicidality in U.S. veterans, underscoring the potential importance of interventions to bolster PIL in this population.
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      Linked Article

      • Relationships of Purpose in Life with Mental Health Among Older Adults: Links to Health and Social Behaviors
        The American Journal of Geriatric PsychiatryVol. 31Issue 2
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          Purpose in life (PIL) is often defined as how an individual experiences their life as being directed, organized, and motivated by important goals. More broadly, PIL can also be conceptualized in relation to health and well-being, meaningful goals and purpose, inner strength, social relationships, mattering to others, and spirituality and religiousness. Many studies have shown how PIL is associated with these positive outcomes among older adults. Older adults with high PIL have lower mortality rates and higher rates of successful aging.
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