Majority of troops avoid couch talk

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Mental disorders ranging from depression to alcoholism need to be de-stigmatized among military personnel to encourage troops to seek support when needed, according to a national investigation published in the February edition of the research journal, Medical Care.

“Our findings show more than half of the military members with a mental disorder do not use any of the mental health services available to them,” says lead author Deniz Fikretoglu, an expert in posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

As the first national epidemiological survey to examine the mental health of active military over a 12-month period, the study was completed by researchers from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute affiliated with McGill University, the Universit? de Montr?al, Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island. The team used data compiled by Statistics Canada, based on a questionnaire designed by the Canadian Department of Defence.

The study was nationally representative, since 8,441 Canadian soldiers were surveyed from a total of about 57,000 full time military and 24,000 reservists. The soldiers were questioned on a variety of mental disorders using the World Health Organization’s Composite International Diagnostic Interview. The result? Some 1,220 soldiers met criteria for at least one mental disorder in the past year. The most commonly reported problems were depression, alcohol dependence, and social phobia, although other problems such as posttraumatic stress were also common.

Reticent to seek support

“This was the first study to systematically examine mental health rates and the barriers that prevent military personnel from seeking help,” explained St?phane Guay, a Universit? de Montr?al criminology professor and director the Trauma Study Centre at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital.

Dr. Guay said military personnel are reticent to seek out support for mental disorders for a variety of reasons. “Foremost among barriers is a failure to acknowledge any need for services and mistrust of military administrative health and social services,” he said, adding that further impediments identified were the belief that a condition is temporary or the inability to identify a problem as a mental illness.

“Mental health disorders are associated with high rates of attrition in the military, which produces a significant economic impact on military organizations,” said Fikretoglu. “It is possible to minimize the burden of mental disorders in the military by ensuring that military members who have a mental disorder seek timely, appropriate care.”

Alain Brunet, the senior author of the study and a researcher at the Douglas Institute, said military personnel must be encouraged to use the mental health services they need ? especially after serving their country in war-torn countries. “Our findings indicate that military institutions should continue public education campaigns to de-stigmatize mental health problems and should make necessary changes in the health delivery systems to gain the trust of military members,” Dr. Brunet said.

The lead author on this study received support from Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Source: Universite de Montreal, Canada

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