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Student veterans, one of the fastest growing student
populations in post-secondary education, face unique challenges as compared with
their civilian counterparts (Cate, 2014; Kirchner, 2015; Rudd et al., 2011).
They are more likely to have multiple roles, encounter external stressors from
school, family, job, and environment, as well as internal stressors such as
service-connected disabilities including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), PTSD is characterized by a cluster of symptoms
of intrusive traumatic memories, avoidance of the reminders of traumatic
events, negative alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal
and reactivity. PTSD is a common psychiatric disability in the general
population, with an estimated 8.3% prevalence rate (Kilpatrick et al., 2013). Besides,
PTSD is at least four times more common in student veterans
when compared to general population, with up to 45.6% of student veterans reporting PTSD (Rudd,
Goulding, & Bryan, 2011). PTSD may negatively impact student veteran’
well-being, which may further negatively affect their college life adjustment
(Alschuler & Yarab, 2016; Cunningham, 2012; DiRamio & Spires, 2009; Elliot, 2015; Norman et al., 2015; Umucu, 2017). However, little
is known about the interrelationships among PTSD, well-being, and college life
adjustment in student veterans. More specifically, it is not clear how the
pillars of well-being (i.e., positive emotion, engagement, relationships,
meaning, and accomplishment) identified by Seligman (2011) play a role as
mediators of the relationship between PTSD and college life adjustment in
student veterans.

Seligman’s Well-Being

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In his 1998
Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman
presented his vision of a positive psychology (Fowler, Seligman, & Koocher,
1999; Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006). Seligman and his
colleagues defined positive psychology as “an umbrella term for the study of
positive emotion, positive character traits, and enabling institutions”
(Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005, p.410). In the line with changes
in paradigm from mental illness to mental health, positive psychology
researchers have developed various theories to explain construct of happiness
and well-being (Butler & Kern, 2016; Diener, 1984; Huppert & So, 2013;
Keyes, 2002; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Rusk & Waters, 2015; Ryff & Keyes,
1995; Seligman, 2011). More recently, Seligman (2011) introduced his Well-Being
Theory with its five core pillars: positive
emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment, which together comprise the PERMA
model of well-being. From Seligman’s
theorietical perspective, well-being is not merely the absence of mental
illness (e.g., PTSD), it is also the presence of the pillars of well-being
(i.e., positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and
accomplishment) (Butler & Kern, 2016; Seligman 2002, 2008; 2011).

Positive Emotion. The first element in well-being theory is
positive emotion which refers to good feelings, such as joy, hope, pleasure,
rapture, happiness, and contentment (Butler & Kern, 2016; Cohn &
Fredrickson, 2009; Seligman, 2011). Positive emotion has been considered as a
key indicator of well-being (Coffey, Warren, & Gottfried, 2015; Coffey et
al., 2016) and is positively associated with higher life satisfaction, better
physical health, higher resilience, higher mindfulness, higher social rewards,
and better work outcomes (Cohn & Fredrickson, 2009).

Engagement. The second element in well-being theory is engagement
which refers to the act of becoming highly interested, absorbed, or focused in
daily life activities (Butler & Kern, 2016; Csikzsentmihalyi, 1990;
Seligman, 2011). Engagement can be psychological (e.g., concentrating
activity), cognitive (e.g., goal setting and self-regulation), and behavioral
(e.g., social involvement) (Lambert D’raven & Pasha-Zaidi, 2016). Across
several studies, engagement has been found to be positively associated with
other indicators of well-being, including life satisfaction and positive
emotion (Gabriele, 2008; Ruch, Harzer, Proyer, Park, & Peterson, 2010;
Vella-Brodrick et al., 2009).

Relationships. The third element in well-being theory is positive
relationships which refer to feelings of being cared about by others,
authentically connected to others, and secure in those connections (Seligman,
2011). It involves a sense of connectedness, loving, and sharing emotions with
others. Positive relationships are considered to represent a fundamental human
need and are strongly linked to happiness (e.g., Peterson, 2006). An international
study across 55 countries found that a good relationship with another person
was the only common predictor of happiness (Diener, et al., 2009).

Meaning. The forth elements in well-being theory is meaning which
refers to a sense of purpose of life derived from something greater than the
self (Butler & Kern, 2016; Seligman, 2011; Steger, Kashdan, & Oishi,
2008). Human beings pursue meaning in life as it provides them a sense of
fulfillment and gives them a life worth living (Seligman, 2011). A higher sense
of meaning has been found to be positively associated with higher life
satisfaction, positive affect, and positive mental health outcomes (e.g.,
Brassai, Piko, & Steger, 2011; King, Hicks, Krull, & Del Gaiso, 2006;
Steger & Frazier, 2005; Steger & Shin, 2010).

Accomplishment. The fifth and last element in well-being theory is
accomplishment which refers to persistent drive to make progress toward
personal goals and having a sense of achievement in one’s life (Butler &
Kern, 2016; Seligman, 2011b). A study by Levasseur, Desrosiers, and Whiteneck
(2010) found that a having sense of accomplishment in participation in social
roles was associated with a number of positive outcomes, including better
health, higher well-being, and greater quality of life, in adults with various
impairment levels.

The association between PTSD and pillars of well-being in
veterans. Previous
research studies have examined the relationship between PTSD and well-being in
veterans, without a specific focus on well-being theory. Tsai and colleagues
(2012) explored the role of coping, resilience, and social support as mediators
for the relationship between PTSD and social functioning in veterans. They
found that veterans with PTSD has less resilience, more dysfunctional thought
control, less social support and family cohesion, and greater difficulties in
their romantic relationships. Owens and colleagues (2009) found that PTSD is positively
related to depression and anxiety, and negatively related to meaning in life in
veterans. Barry et al. (2012) examined if PTSD is linked to alcohol abuse and
academic problems in student veterans and found that PTSD is positively related
to alcohol use problems, and is negatively linked to academic accomplishment. Taken
together, PTSD is associated with a host of negative health and well-being
outcomes, including difficulties in regulating positive emotions (Kashdan,
Julian, Merritt, & Uswatte, 2006; Owens, Steger, Whitesell, & Herrera,
2009; Tsai, Harpaz-Rotem, Pietrzak, & Southwick, 2012), lack of engagement
in social activities (Kashdan et al., 2006), difficulties with intimacy and
troubled family, social, and school relationships (Elliott et al., 2011;
Laffaye, Cavella, Drescher, & Rosen, 2008; Monson, Taft, & Fredman,
2009; Tsai et al., 2012), lack of meaning in life (Owens et al., 2009), and
lack of accomplishment (Barry, Whiteman, & Macdermic Wadsworth, 2012;
Elliott, 2015), which may increase the risk for poor educational attainment and
college life adjustment in student veterans.

PTSD and
College Life Adjustment in Student Veterans

College life adjustment of student veterans has been
explored in association with PTSD in a number of studies (Barry et al., 2012;
Elliott, 2015; Elliot et al., 2011; Ellison et al., 2012; Ramchand et al.,
2010; Widome et al., 2011). Elliott (2015) explored the predictors of student
veterans’ problems on campus and concluded that PTSD is positively correlated with
dissatisfaction with college performance, financial hardship, more frequent
reports of troubling experiences at school, and social tension (i.e., tension
with veteran friends, criticism from veteran friends, and criticism from
family), and is negatively associated with social support from family and
friend. Besides, it was reported that PTSD is negatively associated with Grade
Point Average (GPA) and is positively correlated with feeling alienated on
campus and binge drinking (Barry et al., 2012; Elliott et al., 2011). Rudd and
colleagues (2011) explored the relationship between psychological symptoms and
suicide risk. They reported that 82% of student veterans with PTSD experience
significant suicide attempt, which is a risk for their college life adjustment.
Overall, empirical evidence from other studies has documented that PTSD is associated with an
increased risk for academic problems (Barry, Whiteman, & Macdermid
Wadsworth, 2012), emotional and physical health problems (Elliott et al.,
2011), substance use problems (Barry et al., 2012), and interpersonal problems
(Elliott et al., 2011; Widome et al., 2011).

Purpose of

Growing awareness of the burden of PTSD on college life
adjustment in student veterans has led to an expansion in research to identify
underlying mechanisms associated with the relationship between
PTSD and college life adjustment in student veterans. Clearly, the literature
reviewed above seems to suggest there may be multiple mediating factors that
may explain the association between PTSD and college life adjustment in student
veterans. Increasing attention is currently being paid to Seligman’s
Well-Being Theory in the fields of health and psychology; however, the
mechanisms by which the pillars of well-being (i.e., positive emotion,
engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment) affects the relationship
between PTSD and college life adjustment in student veterans is yet unevaluated
in the context of an empirical well-being theory. Therefore, the purpose of
this study is to evaluate the extent the pillars of Seligman’s Well-Being Theory
serve as underlying mechanisms to explain the relationship between PTSD and
college life adjustment in student veterans. We hypothesized that the pillars
of well-being would mediate the association between PTSD and college life