Britain’s over-stretched Armed Forces are suffering from rising levels of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism and family breakdown, as the ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere start to take their toll.
The study of 5,547 regular military personnel by researchers at King’s College London, and published in the British Medical Journal, focused on the 20% deployed for more than 13 months over a three-year period between 2001 and 2006, the maximum term for which soldiers can be deployed.
Those in this category were more likely to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and problems at home during and after deployment. This was particularly apparent among those with direct combat exposure, the study found.
One in four reported “severe” alcohol problems, compared with 10% of those deployed for fewer than five months.
Post-traumatic stress disorder was found among 5.2% of those deployed for more than 13 months, compared with 3% of those who spent fewer than five months in conflict zones.
While the study covered deployments since 2000, and so included tours of duty in Kosovo and Sierra Leone as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, those deployed for longer periods of time, and those who were uncertain about when they would return home, were more likely to suffer mental distress, it found.
“A clear and explicit policy on the duration of each deployment of Armed Forces personnel may reduce the risk of PTSD,” it added. “An association was found between deployment for more than a year in the past three years and mental health that might be explained by exposure to combat.”
The findings were consistent with the results of a survey of US troops in Iraq, which found that an uncertain date of returning home increased psychological distress, the survey concluded.