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BMJ. 2007 November 24; 335(7629): 1070.
PMCID: PMC2094176
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Soldiers' mental health deteriorates for months after returning from Iraq

The US Department of Defense uses a brief questionnaire and interview to screen all soldiers returning from Iraq for evidence of mental health problems. The programme began as a single screen soon after coming home, but soldiers are now screened a second time, three to six months later. An analysis of the first 88 235 soldiers to have both screens shows that their mental health worsens during the six months or so between screens. The proportion of soldiers vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder increased from 11.8% to 16.7% for regular soldiers and from 12.7% to 24.5% for reserves. The proportion screening positive for depression, interpersonal aggression, and overall mental health risk also increased. So did use of mental health services. Both screening rounds together found that 20% of regular soldiers and more than 40% of reserves returning from Iraq had some kind of mental health problem.

Overall, reserves seemed to suffer more than regular soldiers, despite reporting similar rates of traumatic combat experiences. The stresses of returning to civilian life could be to blame, say the authors. But reserves may be in more of a hurry than regulars to report health problems, because their standard military health insurance runs out after six months.

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