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Mental health and the military

Press release issued: 13 May 2010

"Preventing psychiatric illness is a major public health problem and it appears that the armed forces are beginning to take this challenge seriously," writes Professor Glyn Lewis of the University of Bristol in The Lancet this week in response to new research into the mental health of military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study, by Dr Nicola Fear and colleagues at Kings College London, found that, overall, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems in the UK armed forces remain stable.

However, hazardous drinking, both before and after deployment, continues to be a serious problem for regular service men and women. 

In an accompanying commentary, Professor Lewis of Bristol’s Academic Unit of Psychiatry notes that alcohol is banned when troops are deployed, but alcohol is cheaper for regular troops when they are in base.  He says: “This is a challenge for the general population but there does seem to be a particular problem in military culture about the use of alcohol.”

He concludes: “Keeping our servicemen and women fit and healthy is important for them and for their ability to carry out their demanding roles.  Psychiatric illness is common in all walks of life and those serving in the military are not immune.  Indeed, there are aspects of military life that would increase the risk of some disorders, such as PTSD. 

“There is increasing realisation that the modern military must look after the minds as well as the bodies of its servicemen and women.  The UK services have shown a commendable response to this issue.  They have funded a major research programme at King's College, developed a network of mental health units and addressed health concerns in reservists.” 

What are the consequences of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan on the mental health of the UK armed forces? A cohort study by Nicola T Fear, Margaret Jones, Dominic Murphy, Lisa Hull, Amy C Iversen, Bolaji Coker, Louise Machell, Josefin Sundin, Charlotte Woodhead, Norman Jones, Neil Greenberg, Sabine Landau, Christopher Dandeker, Roberto J Rona, Matthew Hotopf, Simon Wessely The Lancet Published online May 13 2010 

Mental health of UK Afghan and Iraq veterans by Glyn Lewis, The Lancet Published online May 13 2010