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Old-fashioned letters reduce post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers

There was Message in a Bottle, The Notebook and then Dear John. Nicholas Sparks, the king of saccharine love stories, certainly never penned a novel about romance sparked over the phone – there's just something about the written word. Maybe it's because it takes more effort to craft a letter. And now, to confirm the sentiment, the Journal of Traumatic Stress has published new research saying letters are much more than a pick-me-up for soldiers.

In a study conducted at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Denver, a team of researchers surveyed 193 U.S. soldiers who had been married for at least a year about how they communicated with their partners while they were deployed in a combat zone and how satisfied they were with their marriages. They also measured post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in the soldiers.

Their results suggest the happily married soldiers who received delayed forms of communication (letters, care packages or e-mails) had lower levels of PTSD symptoms than their counterparts who communicated with their spouses just as frequently by phone or instant messaging.

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Snail mail, the researchers write, can "provide tangible objects or written documents that may be revisited repeatedly by soldiers, thus providing repeated support."

Of course, we're also more eloquent and expressive in writing than we are over the phone. Soldiers can also be more candid in written communication because there's no fear of others overhearing their proclamations of love.

Interestingly, frequent letter mail from spouses did not help soldiers who were dissatisfied with their marriages – in fact, it heightened the risk of developing PTSD. Makes sense: No mail at all certainly beats a Dear John letter.

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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