Alcohol abuse and depression are common among British troops returning from conflict deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan but post traumatic stress is less of a problem than previously thought, researchers said today.
A study by British psychiatrists found that more than 27 % of troops suffer post deployment mental health problems, but only around 5 % have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a debilitating illness that can be caused by wartime trauma.
There were was little difference in levels of PTSD symptoms between British and US troops deployed to Iraq, Reuters reports.
Amy Iversen of the King’s Centre for military health research at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who led the study, said it showed the health needs of active troops and should be valuable for health planners and policy makers.
“Alcohol misuse and depressive disorders are much more common and therefore should be the primary focus for education, prevention and intervention,” she wrote in the study.
Senior British military figures have accused the government of failing to provide enough care for soldiers suffering mental trauma after fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where around 170 000 British troops have been deployed since 2001.
“Although our perception is that post traumatic stress disorder symptoms are the main source of psychiatric illness in service personnel, alcohol misuse and depressive disorders are actually much more common,” she said.
The study, published in the journal BioMed Central Psychiatry, analysed 821 military personnel to see how many suffered mental illness and post traumatic stress.
For PTSD an illness caused by a traumatic event the researchers used a 4-factor measure of symptoms developed by the National Centre for PTSD.
They include reliving the event, avoiding situations that bring back memories of the event, a numbing of emotions, and feeling keyed up, or so-called “hyperarousal.”
Among British troops, the most common problems were alcohol abuse (18 %) and depression or anxiety (13.5 %). The researchers also said they found that reservists deployed to Iraq were at greater psychiatric risk than regular personnel.
A study published in March showed that young British men who have left the military are up to three times more likely to kill themselves than people in the general population.
A large US study in 2007 found that US male military veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than people who had never been in the military.