Security duties damage soldiers' mental health

December 11, 2003

Security duties in Northern Ireland may be damaging to soldiers' mental health, say researchers in this week's BMJ.

A sample of 150 servicemen from all ranks of an infantry battalion were surveyed two weeks before deployment to Northern Ireland and again two weeks before the end of a six month tour between 1993 and 1994. Their mental health was scored using recognised scales.

Soldiers reported high levels of psychological illness, and were three times more likely to suffer physical and psychological symptoms after their tour in Northern Ireland. Symptoms of anxiety and social isolation increased significantly, but ratings for depression did not change.

Although research had emphasised the detrimental effects of fighting war, tours to maintain security may also be damaging to soldiers' mental health, say the authors. On tour, soldiers live in cramped conditions and experience long periods of inactivity interspersed with sporadic episodes of exposure to potentially dangerous situations.

Future research should explore what aspects of a soldier's existence contribute to changes in psychological illness if remedial steps are to be taken to maximise a soldier's professional potential, they conclude.
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BMJ

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