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Soldiers Have a Higher Rate of Mental Disorders Than Civilians

Update Date: Mar 04, 2014 01:44 PM EST

In a series of three studies, researchers examined the incidence rate of mental illnesses for soldiers who are often exposed to high stress situations. The study, which is the largest of its kind that was conducted on the United States military, found that soldiers have a higher rate of mental disorders than the general civilian public.

For two of the three studies, the researchers had used data provided by the Army's Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS) survey, which interviewed about 5,500 soldiers. The survey focused on mental illnesses such as clinical depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder and panic disorder. The researchers stated that the soldiers commonly used alcohol and drugs.

"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 reported by Philly. "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."

The researchers headed by Kessler found that a quarter of the active-duty, non-deployed solders had some kind of mental disorder. 11 percent of this group suffered from more than one mental illness. In the second study headed by Matthew Nock, also from Harvard, the researchers assessed the soldiers' risk of suicide and found that 14 percent of the soldiers reported thinking about ending their lives. 5.3 percent had actually planned it and 2.4 percent had attempted to commit suicide at least once. The researchers noted that nearly 60 percent of the soldiers who attempted to commit suicide had mental illnesses before enlisting in the army.

"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.

In the third study that was headed by researcher Michael Schoenbaum from the National Institute of Mental Health, the team examined data on nearly one million army soldiers. The soldiers were on active duty between 2004 and 2009. The team concluded that during that time frame, there was a rise in suicide rates for the current and the previously deployed men. Schoenbaum also found that men who had the highest risk of suicide were white soldiers who had a junior enlisted rank or were recently demoted.

"These studies provide knowledge on suicide risk and potentially protective factors in a military population that can also help us better understand how to prevent suicide in the public at large," said National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Thomas R. Insel reported by CNN.

The Army's STARRS project was created by the combined efforts of the U.S. Army and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. The study was released in a series of three reports in JAMA Psychiatry.

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