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Mental Health Screening of Soldiers Before Deployment Beneficial


Mental health screening of soldiers before deployment could significantly reduce the number of psychiatric and behavioral problems experienced by military personnel, according to a new study. Results show that predeployment screening reduced mental health issues by 78 percent and that suicidal thoughts were cut in half.

Mental health screening identifies potential problems

A disturbing number of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home with mental health problems. A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, for example, reported that an average of 10 percent of returning soldiers suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.

Another recent study found that the number of soldiers who are forced to leave the Army solely because of a mental illness increased by 64 percent from 2005 to 2009. At a recent military suicide prevention conference, it was reported that 18 veterans of all wars commit suicide each day in the United States.

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In the new study, a total of six combat brigades participated: 10,353 soldiers in three brigades were not screened and served as controls, and 10,678 soldiers in three other brigades underwent mental health screening. All the soldiers were part of the 2007-2008 surge of forces to Iraq.

Of the 10,678 soldiers screened, 819 (7.7%) were identified as needing additional mental health evaluation. Of the 819, 74 (9%) were not deployed and 96 (11.7%) were deployed with additional requirements. Reasons for nondeployment can include the presence of psychosis or bipolar disorders. Individuals who are currently on a stable medication program can serve, and their care is tracked during deployment.

At the six-month follow-up, soldiers who had been screened were significantly less likely to have clinical contacts than the control soldiers in the areas of suicidal thoughts (suicidal ideation), combat stress, psychiatric disorders, occupational impairment, and the need for air evacuation for behavioral health reasons.

This study represents the first time predeployment mental health screening has been evaluated systematically. The results, which appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry in Advance, suggest that mental health screening of soldiers before they are deployed can make a significant difference in the prevalence of mental health problems, including suicidal ideation.

Warner CH et al. American Journal of Psychiatry 2011 Jan 18; DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10091303