By Laura Tedesco
December 4, 2014 

Full Article [Yahoo! Health - The Mental Problem Plaguing Male Soldiers] - Yahoo! Health

When soldiers come home from war, there’s a week, maybe two, of total euphoria as they reconnect with family and friends, making up for lost time. But, “then real life sets in,” says Sarah Brunskill, who researches social transitions among soldiers. 

“There’s a sense of disconnection,” Brunskill explains. “The wife or family thinks they’re getting the same guy back.” But when loved ones realize the returning soldier is somehow changed, more distant, “there’s a sense of blaming or guilt, of ‘Why can’t we fix that?’” she says.

This difficulty transitioning back to civilian life is considered a normal part of the process, yet for some soldiers, the reintegration period never progresses beyond this phase. It’s what Brunskill and a team of researchers, including Philip Zimbardo, head of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, call “social intensity syndrome,” a growing problem they describe in the January 2015 edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

At the root of social intensity syndrome, or SIS, is military culture itself, which socializes young men in ways that prepare them for combat but make readjusting to civilian life a challenge. “In boot camp, they break you down and build you back up,” Brunskill says. “They create their own culture of norms.”

It’s what some have called a “warrior culture” or a “cult of masculinity” — an environment that deemphasizes emotion and the individual, instead focusing on bonding as a group, forming a brotherhood steeped in self-sacrifice, according to a study in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

This mentality is effective, even essential, for life in a war zone. The problem? It’s an identity not easily shed upon a soldier’s return. As the researchers write in the Personality and Individual Differences study, “the socialization and situational pressures that transform ordinary men into servicemen follows them beyond their service and into their civilian lives, which may cause problems for those who cannot completely readjust to civilian culture.” Civilian jobs may seem boring; everyday interactions, unbearable.


SIS is giving a name to this struggle. Hallmarks of the syndrome include a strong need to be around other men (often to the exclusion of women), isolating oneself from civilians, poor bonding with family, and participating in high-risk activities. “They’re drawn toward male-dominated things,” says Brunskill. “And they have a sense of nostalgia, of wanting to go back — remembering all the good times in the military and forgetting the bad times.”