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Mental illness common in returning soldiers

Reuters | March 13, 2007

High rates of mental health disorders are being diagnosed among US military personnel soon after being released from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to investigators in San Francisco.

They estimate that out of 103,788 returning veterans, 25 percent had a mental health diagnosis, and more than half of these patients had two or more distinct conditions.

Those most at risk were the youngest soldiers and those with the most combat exposure, Dr. Karen H. Seal at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and associates report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Seal's group based their findings on records of US veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan who were seen at VA health care facilities between September 2001 and September 2005.

In addition to the high rate of mental health disorders, about one in three (31 percent) were affected by at least one psychosocial diagnosis.

The most frequent diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder. Other diagnoses included anxiety disorder, depression, substance use disorder, or other behavioral or psychosocial problem.

The researchers observed very little difference between men and women, racial and ethnic subgroups, and those on active duty and National Guard or Reserves.

"The youngest group of active duty veterans (age, 18 to 24 years) had a significantly higher risk of receiving one or more mental health diagnoses and posttraumatic stress disorder compared with active duty veterans 40 years or older," Seal and her colleagues write.

The research team maintains that enhanced prevention, detection, and treatment of mental health problems "should be targeted at the youngest...veterans," especially those who were on active duty.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 12, 2007.



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