Military service personnel serving in Iraq or Afghanistan were more likely to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they had a mental health disorder before deployment or if they were physically injured while deployed, according to findings from a prospective study published today in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
The research, by a team led by investigators from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, is based on responses from 22 630 service members who served in the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan and who were surveyed about their physical and mental health status before, during, and after deployment. The investigators found that 1840, or 8.1%, screened positive for PTSD symptoms after deployment and 183 (0.8%) sustained a deployment-related physical injury. Those with 1 or more defined mental health disorders before serving were 2.52 times more likely than those without a prior mental health disorder to screen positive for PTSD symptoms after their time in the field. Being injured while serving was also associated with an increased likelihood of developing PTSD, and that risk increased with the severity of injury.
Previous research probing whether having a psychiatric disorder before deployment affects a service member’s risk for developing PTSD had conflicting findings. Some studies supported such a link, but others concluded that a physical injury and other factors emerging while deployed far outweighed predeployment mental health status in determining risk of developing PTSD symptoms. The Archives authors said that because their study was prospective, it was better able to accurately assess preinjury psychiatric status than prior studies, which were retrospective and less likely to do so.
Compiling health status questionnaires before deployment may help identify those military personnel who are most vulnerable to developing PTSD symptoms, the authors suggested. This could provide an opportunity to limit deployment-related PTSD by identifying vulnerable individuals and either developing preventive measures to offer them before deployment or strategies to quickly diagnose and treat postdeployment PTSD when they return from a combat zone.