An uneven distribution of traumatised soldiers

A brief insight into why US troops returning from the same war zones as UK troops show four times the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder – taken from a recent Military Medicine article on mental health treatment in the British armed forces.

The prevalence of PTSD among U.S. forces returning from Iraq has approached 20% of combat personnel. This is in contrast to U.K. forces, which have reported approximately 5% using the same screening tools. There are differences between the forces deployed, some of which may explain the differences in mental health outcomes: U.S. troops are younger, less experienced, deploy for longer tours, and are more likely to be reservists than U.K. forces, all of which are independent risk factors for the development of symptoms of PTSD. A further explanation is that the higher levels of reporting may reflect societal and cultural factors not necessarily associated with deployment.

‘Societal and cultural factors’, of course, could mean anything from the British ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to dealing with mental distress to the system of support and compensation for US troops which has been noted not to encourage improvement as well as it might.

However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that part of the difference may be due to the experiences of the troops, and as far as I know, there is no research that has looked at whether your average US soldier in Iraq simply deals with more potentially traumatising events – combat, injured civilians, bombings and so on.

The article is a fantastic discussion of how the UK armed forces manage mental health but unfortunately it’s locked behind a paywall, because discussions about British army psychiatry can explode if not handled by professionals.
 

UPDATE: The authors of the paper, the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, have kindly put the full text of the article online which you can read as a pdf.

 

Link to locked article in Military Medicine.
Link to PubMed entry for article.

2 Comments

  1. Posted October 28, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t suppose the whole wikileaks leaked half-million reports of those soldiers witnessing many times the slaughter seen in Afghanistan or that now more than 60% of those are civilians would have anything to do with the levels of stress. Perhaps the Brits just aren’t there to see the execution of 61 civilians every day, 7 days a week for six years? I mean, I’m just guessing, but there are those unmentionable wikileaks reports to consider, aren’t there?

  2. Posted October 31, 2010 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    A CBS report recently uncovered that veterans aged 20-24 who served in the war on terror had a suicide rate higher than those of any other veterans and more than twice as high as the suicide rates of non-veterans. Mental health professionals and lay-people alike need to get educated to help our returning troups deal with this trauma and find a way to reconnect with their lives.

    Debra Stang
    Alliant Professional Networking Specialist


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