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.