New Studies Show Widespread Mental Health Issues In the Army

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Three new studies have been released this week suggesting a significant number of American soldiers suffer from some form of mental health issues, even before being deployed. The findings say the rates of mental health issues in soldiers is considerably higher than the rates found in the general population.

Veteran“Some of the differences in disorder rates are truly remarkable,” Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and senior author of one of the studies, said in a Harvard news release. “The rate of major depression is five times as high among soldiers as civilians, intermittent explosive disorder six times as high, and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] nearly 15 times as high.”

Two of the three studies used data from the STARRS survey, a large research effort involving nearly 5,500 soldiers. HealthDay reports the survey was a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). All three studies were released online yesterday, but they will also be published in the upcoming issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

Kessler’s study found that a quarter of active duty, non-deployed Army soldiers tested positive for a least one psychiatric disorder following a mental health assessment exam. Eleven percent could be diagnosed with more than one mental disorder.

The conditions most likely to onset before enlistment included major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and PTSD. However, conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), drugs and alcohol abuse, and “intermittent explosive [anger] disorder” were also common.

In total, the study suggests nearly 13 percent of all soldiers surveyed had mental health impairments significant enough to potentially compromise their ability to carry out their Army responsibilities.

The second study was led by Harvard researcher Matthew Nock, who focused more on the link between mental illness before enlistment in the Army and the risk of suicide. The number of suicides in the armed forces has been steadily climbing in recent years, but the reason has not been identified. Nock’s study also relied on data from the STARRS survey.

The study found that 14 percent of soldiers said they had suicidal thoughts, 5.3 percent had planned suicide, and 2.4 percent had made real suicide attempts. In close to 60 percent of cases, soldiers who had attempted suicide had mental disorders that appeared to onset before enlistment in the Army.

The researchers noted that the suicide rate for Army personnel now exceeds that of the general population.

“These results are a wake-up call highlighting the importance of outreach and intervention for new soldiers who enter the Army with pre-existing mental disorders,” Robert Ursano, chair of the department of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and co-principal investigator of the Army STARRS survey, said in the Harvard news release.

The third study, led by NIMH researcher Michael Scoenbaum, examined the risk factors that may predict soldiers at higher risk of suicide. After reviewing data from almost 1 million Army soldiers on active duty between the years of 2004 and 2009, the researchers found the soldiers at the highest risk of suicide were white males, soldiers at junior enlisted ranks, and soldiers who had recently been demoted.

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