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Mental illness higher in US soldiers than in civilians: Study

PTI | Last Updated: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 20:40

Washington: Many American soldiers suffer from some form of mental illness, and rates of many of these disorders are much higher in soldiers than in civilians, the largest study of mental-health risk ever conducted among the US military has found.

Although the suicide death rate in the US Army has historically been below the civilian rate, the Army rate began climbing at the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and by 2008, it exceeded the demographically matched civilian rate (20.2 suicide deaths per 100,000 vs. 19.2), according to Harvard Medical School.

"Some of the differences in disorder rates are truly remarkable," said Ronald Kessler, McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the paper on mental disorder prevalence.

"The rate of major depression is 5 times as high among soldiers as civilians, intermittent explosive disorder 6 times as high, and PTSD nearly 15 times as high," Kessler said in a press release.

The most common disorders in the Army STARRS survey were attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intermittent explosive disorder (IED), or recurrent and uncontrollable anger attacks, Kessler said.

The findings suggest that soldiers did not have higher rates of most "internalizing disorders" (anxiety disorders and depression) than civilians before enlistment, but rather developed high rates of these disorders only after they enlisted in the Army.

The study`s findings, related to suicide attempts and deaths, were released in a series of three reports published in this week`s edition of JAMA Psychiatry.
Kessler`s study also found almost 25 per cent of active- duty, non-deployed Army soldiers surveyed tested positive for a mental disorder of some kind, and 11 per cent within that subgroup also tested positive for more than one illness.
Much of the data used in the reports was taken from the Army`s STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers) survey of almost 5,500 soldiers.

The project was collaboration between the US Army and the US National Institute of Mental Health. The survey looked at disorders that included clinical depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder and PTSD. Authors also noted that alcohol and drug use were common, CNN reported.

When it came to suicidal thoughts, one study found about 14 per cent of soldiers had thought about taking their lives, while 5.3 per cent had planned a suicide and 2.4 per cent had actually made one or more attempts.

"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," said Robert Ursano, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and co- principal investigator of Army STARRS.

First Published: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 20:40

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