Mind Hacks Examines the Disparity in US and UK Psychiatric Casaulties in Iraq
> 10/31/2006 2:06:33 PM

Dr. Vaughn Bell, one of the primary contributors at one of our favorite health blogs, Mind Hacks, had a great post up yesterday that looked at the large disparity in percentages of UK soldiers who report mental health problems upon returning from Iraq when compared to their American counterparts. He points out that studies have found that only about 4% of UK soldiers experience posttraumatic stress disorder, while anywhere from 10% to 20% of Americans returning from Iraq will develop symptoms of the disorder.

Pulling several talking points from a JAMA editorial on the subject, Dr. Bell brings several valid arguments into the arena, primarily, that US tours are longer than those of British soldiers and that often US combat duty is in more dangerous locations. But the quote he pulls from the JAMA article lays out the most interesting argument:

The groups described in the US studies were demographically different from those described here. The US forces deployed to Iraq in both studies were younger, of lower rank, and contained more reservists than our UK sample. While less than 10% of the US sample had previous experience of deployment, more than two-thirds of the UK service personnel from both cohorts had been on previous deployments in a range of settings, including both war-fighting and peacekeeping duties. They therefore had much more experience of the stresses of military deployments, and might have been more resilient to these stresses.

Essentially, in comparison to British troops heading to Iraq, US soldiers are a lot greener, and are often wholly unprepared to deal with the stresses that they will encounter in the field. When combined with the previous two factors, it makes a lot of sense that our soldiers would experience many more negative effects from battle exposure.

It's difficult to say if there is any hard and fast solutions, but it would seem that more preparation, perhaps in the form of battle games or even VR simulations like those being tested for PTSD treatment, could be employed. This is also an outcome that could be effected by more rigorous screening at the time of enlistment. While there are few if any truly safe or stress free areas in a combat situation, a thorough screening would help identify enlistees who might present future symptoms of stress or anxiety disorders, or at the very least, identify those who had already had problems with managing stress, so that they might be trained to serve in ways to best utilize their skills and lessen the danger to themselves and their fellow soldiers. Comprehensive mental health care before, during and after deployment will only serve to better our fighting forces.

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