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Cliodhna Sargent's PhD

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Funding:CIT RISAM PhD Scholarship
Timeline:Start; Spetember 2014. Duration; 3 years
Team:PhD student; Cliodhna Sargent, Supervisor; Jim O'Mahony, HALPIN liaison; Cormac Gebruers
Abstract: Whilst all military cohorts have been seen to experience both physiological and psychological stressors during occupational duties, the naval service experience different stressors due the prolonged periods of time spent at sea. Research has analysed some of these stressors however many them have focused on how individuals are affected because of time spent in combat zones. The Irish Naval Service (INS) is an organisation under the Irish Defence Forces organisation and as such many of its physiological and psychological assessment procedures have come from the Defence Forces. Very limited research has been carried out in relation to the INS as a separate entity. As a result, the aims of this research were to:
  • Create a physiological scoring system specifically for the INS
  • Evaluate the baseline physiological levels of personnel within the INS and the impact certain variables have on physiological wellbeing
  • Evaluate the psychological baseline levels of personnel within the INS and assess the impact certain variables are having on psychological wellbeing
In order to achieve these aims, personnel were assessed under three different headings: physical fitness, body composition and psychological.
To assess physical fitness levels each participant completed physical fitness tests that assessed various components of physical fitness. These included: flexibility (sit and reach test), power (vertical jump test, standing long jump test), agility (pro agility test), strength (hand grip strength, chin up test, push up test, sit up test), speed (over 5-metres, over 10-metres), anaerobic conditioning (5-metre multiple shuttle run test), aerobic conditioning (multi-stage fitness test). From the data produced because of these tests, a quantitative scoring system was created that allows a comprehensive analysis of physical fitness to be conducted. The scoring system enabled each participant to be scored out of a possible 30 points for each of the twelve tests completed. If all twelve tests are used then the maximum overall that could be obtain by any individual is 360 points. The flexible nature of the scoring system allows for tests to be included or excluded to suit the needs of the individual or the organisation. However, until research has been conducted to assess which components of physical fitness are essential to occupational performance, it is recommended that all components remain in the testing process.
When the physical fitness data was compared to that of other military cohorts, personnel within this study were seen to perform similarly or better, apart from the scores for the hand grip test and the multi-stage fitness test. Vertical power (r=-0.525, p<0.005) and aerobic capacity (r=-0.508, p<0.0005) were found to decrease as the number of years in the service increased. Also, non-smokers were found to perform significantly better in relation to push up performance when compared with smokers (p=0.025). Further research needs to investigate why the number of years in the service is having an impact on physical fitness, especially since age was not found to be a factor.
As already mentioned personnel within the INS spend prolonged periods of time at sea. As a result, the environment on-board naval vessels can have an impact on physical fitness. Of the four classes of vessels (coastal patrol vessel, helicopter patrol vessel, large patrol vessel and off shore patrol vessel), the coastal patrol vessels were found to have the poorest fitness facilities and individuals on-board these vessels exercised significantly less whilst at sea when compared with shore based (p<0.005). Six factors were also identified as having an impact on the exercise of participants whilst at sea. These were: time, fatigue/lack of sleep, motivation, lack of equipment/space, workload/shift work and weather.
Body composition was assessed using several methods including body mass index (BMI), skinfolds and waist to hip ratio. Body composition was found to increase as age increased and as the number of years in the service increased. Body composition was also found to be higher for smokers than non-smokers, however, this had not reached a significant level yet. The amount of time spent exercising was found to have a positive impact on body composition apart from BMI with which it had no correlation. This may indicate that BMI is not suitable for use within the INS due to the muscular body composition.
Three questionnaires were used to assess various aspects of psychological wellbeing. These were: GHQ-12 (used to assess general mental health), NEO-FFI (used to assess personality traits) and CISS (used to assess the ability to cope in stressful situations). Results showed that the longer an individual spent in the INS the more likely they were of having a common mental health disorder. Avoidance was used as the most common coping mechanism for stressful situations, however, the use of this mechanism was found to decrease with age. The highest percentage of participants scored in the ‘high’ category for extraversion and in the average category for the other four personality types (neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness).
High scores for neuroticism were found to be linked to poor levels of general mental health and those who scored high were also found to use emotion or social diversion coping styles in stressful situations. In contrast, high levels of conscientiousness were linked to good general mental health and individuals who scored high for conscientiousness were also found to use task related coping to deal with stressful situations. These results could indicate that the NEOFFI could be used as a recruitment or promotional tool within the INS.
Theme(s): Maritime Operations; Human factors
Deliverables:
  • Doctoral thesis; Analysis of the Physiological and Psychological Wellbeing of Irish Naval Service Personnel. June 2017. Request access.
  • A review of the physiological andpsychological health and wellbeing of naval service personnel and the modalities used for monitoring. Sargent, C., Gebruers, C., O'Mahony, J. Military Medical Research, 2017 4:1. Download.
  • The development and optimisation of a quantitative physical fitness scoring system for use amongst Naval Service personnel. Sargent, C., Lacey, Sean., Gebruers, Cormac., O'Mahony, J., International Maritime Health, 2016; 67, 3: 1-8. Download

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