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Distressed soldiers turning to alcohol

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 Distressed soldiers turning to alcohol

Thousands of soldiers, returning from conflict deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming depressed and turning to alcohol, according to new research.

The study, conducted by British psychiatrists, found that 27 per cent (46,000) have suffered from post deployment mental health problems, and that 18 per cent (35,000) have a problem with alcohol.

Leader of the study, Amy Iversen from the King’s Centre for military health research at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said that it showed that the health of our troops should be valuable to both 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.

The study, published in the journal BioMed Central Psychiatry, found that 13 per cent of returning servicemen have suffered from depression and anxiety, and five per cent reported symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - an illness caused by a traumatic event.

Later Iversen said: “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”

An MoD spokesman added: “Problems of binge-drinking have been identified among service personnel, in common with British society as a whole, and we are determined to do more to promote healthy attitudes to drinking.”

The number of servicemen returning with mental health issues and a dependence on alcohol is expected to put a strain on the charities that support soldiers with such issues.

Combat Strees has reported a 66 per cent increase in the number of veterans seeking help and advice since 2005.

Robin Marsh, the charity’s spokesman, said: “We are going to be overwhelmed with people needing help - how on earth are we going to deal with it?”

“This is going to be the biggest increase since we began in World War I and it will put a huge strain on us and everyone else like the NHS.

“We are working with the government to come up with funding solutions.”

The research analysed 821 military personnel to assess how many suffered from a mental illness or PTSD.

For PTSD the researchers used a 4-factor measure of symptoms developed by the National Centre for PTSD, which included reliving the event, avoiding situations that bring back memories of the event, a numbing of emotions, and feeling keyed up, or so-called “hyperarousal”.

The researchers also said they found that reservists deployed to Iraq were at greater psychiatric risk than regular personnel.

A study published in March revealed that young British men who have left the military are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than people in the general population.

A large U.S. study in 2007 found that U.S. male military veterans were twice as likely to kill themselves compared to people who had never been in the military.

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