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Study: Soldiers Enter Military With Higher Rates Of Mental Illness

As suicide rates among soldiers climbed to new highs four years ago, researchers prepared surveys for the largest study to date of mental health risk within the military.

The study’s new findings, published as three papers in JAMA Psychiatry, show that soldiers who join the military come in with much higher rates of mental illness than the general public and that most suicides can be traced to these pre-enlistment conditions.

Researchers organized 327 meetings at Army installations across the country in 2011. A total of 5,428 soldiers — some in large auditoriums, some in small field offices — filled out questionnaires that they knew would be matched to their administrative records.

Almost 85 percent reported a mental health problem that began before they entered the military — with particularly high rates of impulsive behavior, trouble controlling anger and substance abuse.

Lead author Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said many men and women reported developing new conditions while in the service. The soldiers’ anxiety, depression and PTSD were layered onto their existing problems. Continue reading

Women In Combat As Resilient As Men, Study Finds

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Marissa Loya, a female engagement team (FET) commanding officer, crawls through a doorway during a patrol in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 30, 2010. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum/Released)

Who says women aren’t tough?

Facing the stress of wartime combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, women fare about the same as their male counterparts when it comes to post-deployment mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress and other conditions, a new study concludes. The findings, which researchers call “striking,” have “substantial implications for military policy.”

The fact that women appear to be as resilient as men in war undermines conventional wisdom, says lead author Dawne Vogt, PhD, of the Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD and Boston University School of Medicine. That’s because most of the medical literature has found women to be more vulnerable to trauma, and to suffer from more mental health problems as a result, she says. But this study, which surveyed 340 women and 252 men within a year after they’d returned home from war, came to different conclusions.

“Contrary to popular belief, women who go to war respond to combat trauma much like their male counterparts,” Vogt said. She noted that that the findings, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, are particularly significant given ongoing discussions in the military about reversing a longstanding policy that bans women from ground combat. She added: “With the unpredictable guerilla tactics of modern warfare, barring women from ground combat is less meaningful.”

Even though women are officially prohibited from such combat, their levels of exposure to war-related stressors are significant, and closer to the experiences of men than one might imagine, Vogt said. Continue reading