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U.S. Soldiers Face Host of Mental Health Issues

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. military personnel and veterans are plagued by substance abuse, depression and suicide, three new studies indicate.

In one study, researchers surveyed nearly 600 veterans returning from war zone deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan, and found that they were at increased risk for mental health problems and alcohol and drug abuse.

Nearly 14 percent of the veterans screened positive for probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 39 percent for probable alcohol abuse, and 3 percent for probable drug use. Men reported more alcohol and drug use than women, but there were no gender differences in PTSD or other mental health conditions.

Veterans returning from Iraq reported more depression or functioning problems and more alcohol and drug use than those returning from Afghanistan. Army and Marine veterans reported worse mental and physical health than Air Force or Navy veterans.

The studies were published online Jan. 25 in the American Journal of Public Health and are scheduled to appear in the March supplement print issue of the journal.

In the second study, researchers found that major depression and substance use disorders have increased among active duty combat-exposed veterans. The finding comes from an analysis of data from 678,382 active personnel serving between 2001 and 2006.

Those who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were more likely to be diagnosed with major depression or substance abuse than non-deployed personnel. Army and Marine Corps personnel were more likely to be diagnosed with the conditions than Navy and Air Force personnel.

"Our study provided valuable insight for the mental health readiness of the U.S. armed services and implications for potential, continued support of ongoing operations and their post-deployment health care needs," the researchers wrote in a journal news release.

"Given the continuing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, and the increasing trend in major mental health conditions reported in the U.S. military, it would be important for the Department of Defense to assess whether the current system has adequate resources and manpower to handle the increasing number of active duty personnel who need mental health services," they concluded.

The third study found that suicide rates for all U.S. military services increased between 2005 and 2007, particularly for members of the regular Army and National Guard.

The analysis of data from 2,064,183 active duty personnel in 2005 and 1,981,810 active duty personnel in 2007 also showed that mental health diagnoses, mental health visits, prescriptions for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants and sleep medicines, reduction in rank, enlisted rank and separation or divorce were all associated with suicides.

Deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan were associated with an elevated risk of suicide among all services in 2007, and for the Army in 2005.

The increased risk of suicide associated with deployments in 2007 compared with 2005 may be due to the extended duration of war and increasing lengths of deployment for Army and Air Force personnel, the researchers suggested.

"Additional research needs to address the increasing rates of suicide in active duty personnel. This should include careful evaluation of suicide prevention programs and the possible increase in risk associated with SSRIs and other mental health drugs, as well as the possible impact of shorter deployments, age, mental health diagnoses and relationship problems," the researchers concluded.

More information

The American Psychiatric Association has more about military mental health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, news release, Jan. 25, 2012

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