MONDAY, JUNE 7 (Health.com) — Up to 31% of soldiers returning from combat in Iraq experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that affects their jobs, relationships, or home life, according to a new study by Army researchers.
For as many as 14% of these veterans, depression and PTSD cause severe problems in their daily life. These problems are often accompanied by alcohol misuse and aggressive behavior, the study found.
“These things begin to snowball,” says Robert Bossarte, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, N.Y. “Your work performance suffers; you experience job loss and economic strain.”
In extreme cases, the resulting relationship problems and stress can lead to suicide, adds Bossarte, who was not involved in the new study.
The researchers analyzed mental health surveys from more than 13,000 Army and National Guard infantrymen who fought in Iraq. The soldiers completed the surveys between 2004 and 2007, three and 12 months after returning to the U.S.
Between 9% and 14% of the soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD or depression resulting in serious impairment, while 23% to 31% were deemed to have some impairment. (The rates varied depending on the diagnostic criteria the researchers used.)
The pre-deployment rate of PTSD and depression among the soldiers was about 3% to 5%, roughly the same as that seen in the population at large, according to the study, which appears in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Roughly half of the soldiers with PTSD or depression reported having abused alcohol or engaged in aggressive behavior, such as punching a wall or getting into a fight.
The risk of mental health problems may be more persistent among National Guard soldiers, the study suggests. A greater proportion of men and women in the National Guard than in the Army were diagnosed with PTSD and depression one year after their return, although the two groups had similar rates at the three-month mark.
“These were soldiers who were exposed to the same level of combat; who, by and large, reported similar rates of being attacked, ambushed, [and] rocketed; and who reported similar symptoms when they got home,” says the lead author of the study, Major Jeffrey L. Thomas, PhD, the chief of military psychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in Silver Spring, Md.
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