American medical journal JAMA has just published two fascinating articles on the impact of war: one on the neuropsychological effects of combat duty on US soldiers, and the other on the impact of chemical weapons on the mental health of Iranian chemical warfare survivors.
It found that compared to non-deployed soldiers, previously deployed soldiers in Iraq scored worse on measures of sustained attention, verbal learning, and visual-spatial memory and had higher scores on measures of tension and confusion. In contrast, their general reaction time had improved.
The authors of the study suggest that these differences may result from the effects of persistent arousal on the brain which heighten the ability to react quickly at the expense of dampening attention, learning, and memory for things that are not threat-relevant.
The research on the impact of chemical weapons focused on three towns in northern Iran (Oshnaviyeh, Rabat and Sardasht) that had suffered either ‘low-intensity’ conventional warfare, ‘high-intensity’ conventional warfare or a mixture of conventional and chemical warfare in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Researchers interviewed civilian residents of the towns and found frightening levels of lasting PTSD, anxiety symptoms and severe depressive symptoms, particularly in those who had experienced the additional horror of chemical weapon attack.
The chances of mental disorder were 7.2 to 14.6 times higher for chemical weapons survivors than for individuals who had experienced ‘low-intensity’ warfare.