Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New announcement: History of mental illness linked to PTSD

History of mental illness linked to PTSD

By Elizabeth Payne, Postmedia News August 21, 2014

Having a history of mental illness puts soldiers at higher risk of posttraumatic stress disorder after a combat mission, new Canadian research suggests.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, was based on post-deployment interviews with more than 16,000 Canadian Forces members who served in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. It found 10.2 per cent of those deployed to Afghanistan had at least one common mental health problem after returning, including depression and PTSD.

The researchers found a strong correlation between those who had previously been treated for mental health issues and post-deployment mental health problems, including PTSD. Studies of U.S. military personnel have found a similar link, but the Canadian report's authors say it would be wrong to screen military personnel based on previous mental health treatment, because many people who had previously sought mental health treatment "were in good post-deployment mental health.

"Thus selecting people for deployment on this basis alone would result in the unnecessary exclusion of many people who would do well."

The authors suggested people seen as high risk might be offered interventions to prevent relapse before, during and after deployment.

"The strong correlation between current mental health care and post-deployment mental health problems simply demonstrates that people in care are there for a good reason."

The authors said additional research should be done to better understand why some military personnel with risk factors, including a history of mental health problems, did well after deployment to Afghanistan while others did not.

The Canadian findings differ from previous U.S. and U.K. studies in significant ways. Canadian reservists, according to the research, are at no greater risk of PTSD and other mental health problems than regular forces - a phenomenon identified in U.S. and British research. The Canadian study also found longer or multiple deployments did not appear to be risk factors. Francophones were less likely than anglophones to suffer from PTSD and other post-deployment mental health problems, in contrast to civilian data that, according to the authors, suggests "if anything, worse mental health for francophones in Canada." But, given that francophones in the military are largely concentrated at a limited number of bases, the authors suggest there may be other factors at play.

Exposure to combat had a strong correlation to later mental health problems.

The study comes at a time when researchers are better understanding the effects of combat on the mental health of Canadian military personnel, based on interviews with veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Earlier this summer Statistics Canada said one in six full-time regular members of the Canadian Forces reported experiencing symptoms of mental illness or alcohol disorders in the 12 months prior to a major 2013 mental health survey.

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