Mental illness trend on the rise among troops

soldierThe AP is reporting that nearly one in every five soldiers who have been part of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan now suffer from clinical depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers said 18.5 percent of current and former service members contacted in a recent survey reported symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress. Based on Pentagon data that more than 1.6 million have deployed to the two wars, the researchers calculated that about 300,000 are suffering mental health problems.

“There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher at Rand. “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation.”

The trend of mental illness on the rise among soldiers isn’t a new story. I’ve written about the problem several times here, here, and here. The real question now is how the problem is being addressed.

Veterans Affairs is responsible for care of service members after they have leave the military. The Defense Department covers active duty and reservist needs.

Col. Loree Sutton, who heads a new Pentagon center on brain injury, said the Rand study will add to the work defense officials are doing. That includes researching best practices used inside the military and out, improving and expanding training and prevention programs, adding mental health staff and trying to change a military culture in which many troops are afraid or embarrassed to get mental health treatment.
“We’ve got to get the word out that seeking help is a sign of strength,” Sutton said.

She said officials have been working to add thousands more mental health professionals to help the uniformed psychiatrists, psychologists and others struggling to meet the wartime demands of troops and their families. Across the services, officials are trying to hire over 1,000 additional staff. Also, companies providing health care by contract to the Pentagon have added over 3,000 in the past year, and the U.S. Public Health Service has provided some 200, she said. Veterans Affairs has added some 3,800 professionals in the past couple of years, officials there said.

It sounds like the VA is doing all they can with what they’ve got at the moment to address this problem. According to the article, the hesitation among troops to seek help is slowly and steadily on the decline. That’s a good sign. However, a few impediments that can block this progress:

  • they worried about the side effects of medication,
  • they believed family and friends could help them with the problem, or
  • they feared seeking care might damage their careers.

Again, I think many of these problems stem from psychological issues and should be heavily addressed by psychologists who are specifically trained help them work through these problems. This is one instance where I would downplay the use of psych drugs and focus primarily on talk (CBT/DBT/counseling) therapy.

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1 Comment

  1. etta said,

    April 19, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    you’ve been tagged! see what the heck I’m talking about here: http://depressionmarathon.blogspot.com/2008/04/tag-youre-it.html.


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