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More troops hospitalized for mental health than any other reason

By Gavin Dahl
Saturday, May 15, 2010 19:37 EDT
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More U.S. troops were hospitalized for mental health disorders than any other reason in 2009.

Mental health hospitalizations throughout the military topped injuries, battle wounds and even pregnancy and childbirth for the first time in 15 years of tracking by the Pentagon’s Medical Surveillance Monthly report.

USA Today‘s Gregg Zoroya broke the news Friday.

Mental health care accounted for almost 40% of all days spent in hospitals by servicemembers last year, the report said. Of those hospitalizations, 5% lasted longer than 33 days. For most other conditions, fewer than 5% of hospitalizations exceeded 12 days, the report said.

In 2009, there were 17,538 hospitalizations for mental health issues throughout the military, the study shows. That compares with 17,354 for pregnancy and childbirth reasons, and 11,156 for injuries and battle wounds.

Psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder exact a toll in lost manpower, the study said. Four mental health issues — depression, substance abuse, anxiety and adjustment problems such as PTSD — cost the Pentagon 488 years of lost duty in 2009.

“There’s no shame in my game,” Herschel Walker told a group of soldiers from Winn Army Hospital’s Warriors in Transition Program in Georgia one day earlier.

The former NFL star overcame dissociative identity disorder at Fort Stewart’s Main Chapel and, according to Bryan County News, appealed to those who battle behavioral issues to seek help as he did.

“It’s inspiring for us to have Mr. Walker come,” Winn Army Community Hospital Commander Col. Paul R. Cordts said Thursday. “He’s of course a Heisman Trophy winner, had a huge NFL football career but he came here to speak to our soldiers about his experiences with a behavioral health diagnosis. We recognize that combat affects all soldiers. Some soldiers develop symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. We wanted Mr. Walker to come and talk about his experience of going through treatment for his disorder as well as dispelling some of the stigma associated with having a behavioral health disorder.”

Obviously PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are not limited to American soldiers. According to a new U.K. Ministry of Defense study covered Thursday by The Guardian, troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have a 22% higher risk of alcohol misuse than their fellow servicemen and women.

Reservists serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were found to be three times as likely to suffer PTSD as other reservists, while regular personnel in combat roles there were found to be twice as likely to report the disorder.

Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London thinks alcohol abuse is even more of a concern than PTSD. “Our view is that alcohol misuse is actually a greater problem for the armed forces than PTSD,” he said.

Mental health charity Combat Stress said the surge in alcohol misuse was “alarming” and called for support for military personnel to be targeted better.

Another article about the new UK report, from Reuters, points out a “striking” difference in mental health between US and UK troops. US personnel deploy for longer than UK troops – 15 months compared with six months – and American troops are younger. Combined with the numbers from the Pentagon, it is clear that US soldiers are undergoing intense mental pressure.

Walker, who became a college football star at the University of Georgia near where he visited troops said once he realized and accepted something was wrong, the decision to get help was an easy one.

He now tours care facilities in support of The Freedom Care Program’s treatment programs target mental health issues and chemical dependency.

“For anyone, including soldiers, it could be embarrassing,” said Col. Cordts. “It could be viewed as a sign of weakness to seek help but we’ve always said that it’s a sign of strength and courage to come forward and ask for help.”

 
 
 
 
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