Study: Rates of many mental disorders much higher in soldiers than in civilians

The largest study of mental-health risk ever conducted among the U.S. military has found that many soldiers suffer from some form of mental illness, and rates of many of these disorders are much higher in soldiers than in civilians.

The study's findings, related to suicide attempts and deaths, were released in a series of three reports published in this week's edition of JAMA Psychiatry.

Authors noted the differences in disorder rates to be significant.

Ronald Kessler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and senior author of one of the studies was quoted in a Harvard press release saying, "The rate of major depression is five times as high among soldiers as civilians, intermittent explosive disorder six times as high, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nearly 15 times as high."

Kessler's study also found almost 25% of active-duty, non-deployed Army soldiers surveyed tested positive for a mental disorder of some kind, and 11% within that subgroup also tested positive for more than one illness.

Much of the data used in the reports was taken from the Army's STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers) survey of almost 5,500 soldiers. The project was collaboration between the U.S. Army and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. The survey looked at disorders that included clinical depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder and PTSD. Authors also noted that alcohol and drug use were common.

When it came to suicidal thoughts, one study found about 14% of soldiers had thought about taking their lives, while 5.3% had planned a suicide and 2.4% had actually made one or more attempts.

Overall, the three papers painted a disturbing picture of the military and mental illnesses. Although the causes for the rise in Army suicides still remain unknown the authors hoped their data might be useful to the military to help develop outreach programs for new soldiers as well as those who are already in the service.

"These studies provide knowledge on suicide risk and potentially protective factors in a military population that can also help us better understand how to prevent suicide in the public at large," said National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Thomas R. Insel.

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