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Entries in U.S. Soldiers (4)

Thursday
Mar082012

Army Suicide Rates Soar Since Start of Iraq War, Study Finds

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the rate of suicide among U.S. Army soldiers has soared, according to a new study from the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

The study, an analysis of data from the Army Behavioral Health Integrated Data Environment, shows a striking 80 percent increase in suicides among Army personnel between 2004 and 2008.  The rise parallels increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in soldiers, the study said.

The high number of suicides are "unprecedented in over 30 years of U.S. Army records," according to the authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Injury Prevention.  Based on the data and the timing of the increase in suicide rates, the authors calculated that about 40 percent of the Army's suicides in 2008 could be associated with the U.S. military escalation in Iraq.

"This study does not show that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan cause suicide," said Dr. Michelle Chervak, one of the study's authors and a senior epidemiologist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command.  "This study does suggest that an Army engaged in prolonged combat operations is a population under stress, and that mental health conditions and suicide can be expected to increase under these circumstances."

From 1977 to 2003, suicide rates in the Army closely matched the rates of suicide in the civilian population, and were even on a downward trend.  But after 2004, the rates began to climb fast, outpacing the rates in civilians by 2008.

In 2007 and 2008 alone, 255 active duty soldiers committed suicide.  The vast majority of the suicides since 2004 were by men; and 69 percent had seen active combat duty.  Nearly half were between ages 18 and 24.  And 54 percent of those who committed suicide were from among the lower ranks of enlisted personnel.

The study found that suicide rates were higher among soldiers who had been diagnosed with a mental illness in the year before their death.

Soldiers who had been diagnosed with major depression were more than 11 times as likely to commit suicide, and suicide was 10 times more likely among those with anxiety.  More than 25 percent of the soldiers who took their lives had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder, a term for the immediate emotional fallout from proximity to stressful events.

The association between mental health woes and the risk of suicide is well known to mental health professionals, but Chervak said the purpose of the study was to validate mental health diagnoses as a major risk factor for the increasing number of suicides in the Army.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb092012

Military Servicemembers at Increased Risk for Eating Disorders

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Mounting evidence suggests that eating disorders are higher among servicemembers than among civilians.

While there's not enough substantial data collected to quantify the prevalence of eating disorders among servicemembers, previous research suggests female servicemembers are 4 percent more likely to develop an eating disorder than females not in the service.

An estimated 14 percent of active duty military personnel are women, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Still, a 2009 published study in Military Medicine found no difference in the prevalence of eating disorders between West Point cadets and students at civilian colleges.

A review published in 2008 looking at nearly a decade of medical data from servicemembers diagnosed with an eating disorder, suggested that the diagnosis of eating disorders among servicemembers doubled from 1998 to 2006, although the number remained relatively small.  A majority of those diagnosed were Marines.

Experts said a combination of environmental and traditional factors place soldiers, especially women, at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder than any other group of people.

Women who report feeling deployment stress may be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders and weight loss, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

According to Dr. Kim Dennis, medical director of Timberline Knolls, a residential eating disorder treatment center in Lemont, Ill., eating disorders among women in the military are underreported and often difficult to detect.

"I think that goes hand in hand with denial and minimization of eating disorders," said Dennis, whose facility sees a substantial amount of women in the military. "They're more recognized as having a substance disorder."

Eating disorders can range in forms including excessive physical activity, extreme dieting, anorexia, binging and bulimia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr152011

Marines Battalion Mentally Upbeat, Despite Record Deaths

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.) -- The Marine 3-5 battalion returned home from one of Afghanistan's deadliest war zones this week after a grueling eight-month deployment with record casualties.

Remarkably, military psychiatrists say the men appear, for the most part, to be relatively unscathed mentally.

"So far so good," said their second-in-command, Maj. Mark Carlton, who endured the 20-hour flight back with the first wave of Marines and Navy personnel from Afghanistan's Helmand Province to California's Camp Pendleton.

The battalion witnessed 25 dead, 140 wounded and more than a dozen amputees.  But overall rates of combat stress among the 250 mostly infantrymen, at least in their first medical evaluations, appeared to be no higher than other units in the southern province, experts said.

Some wonder why that battalion -- nearly 1,000 in all in the heart of the Taliban insurgency -- appears so psychologically intact, when some reports show as many as 37 percent of recent war veterans are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Carlton attributed much of the good mental health to the battalion's "proactive" small-unit leadership structure.

"They know each other and live with each other the entire deployment and are never far from someone on the team," he said.  "If there's a change in behavior or signs of stress, it's immediately picked up by someone who knows the guy really well."

The 3-5 battalion faced combat almost immediately when they took control of the Sangin District from the British last September.  One of the fatalities was 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, son of Lt. Gen. John Kelly, the personal military aide to Defense Secretary William Gates, the most senior officer to lose a child since American troops arrived in the country in 2001.

But as casualties mounted, visiting mental health professionals said they didn't see a comparable rise in mental health issues and were surprised by the unit's resiliency.

Now, back at Camp Pendleton, the Marines have ordered the unit to stay intact with their families for three months to allow them to decompress together.  There, additional mental health professionals have been brought in to watch for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep292010

Mental Health Experts Analyze 'Thrill Kill' Soldiers' Actions 

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(FORT LEWIS, Wash.) -- Five U.S. soldiers stand accused of using grenades and rifles to murder three unarmed Afghan civilians earlier this year, and investigators say several of the soldiers even collected the dead civilians' body parts.

In a videotape obtained by ABC News' Brian Ross Unit, one of the accused soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, confessed to the murders. He said the officer in charge, Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, gave orders to carry out the killings and that Gibbs had no problem murdering innocent civilians.

Mental health experts overwhelmingly agreed the actions the soldiers have been accused of are inexcusable, and they said a number of complex psychological factors may play a role in why soldiers obey their commander's orders -- even when this means committing atrocities. The emotional toll of combat, people's tendency to do whatever they're told to do and the soldiers' fear of their sergeant, whom several of the them portrayed as a "thrill killer," could have contributed to their decision to kill unarmed civilians, they said.

"Sleep deprivation plays a role, there's some question of traumatic brain injury and some question about the use of prescription drugs," said Dr. Jon Shaw, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine who spent more than 20 years in the military. He has no involvement with the accused soldiers.

The attorney for one of the accused soldiers said his client was under the influence of prescription drugs during his videotaped confession. Another of the accused soldiers said drug use -- often hashish laced with opium -- was rampant at their base in Afghanistan.

"There's a serious problem with substance abuse happening among our soldiers," said Dr. Jeffrey Victoroff, associate professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. He added, though, the he doesn't believe substance abuse alone led to murder.

Extreme stress, psychiatrists say, is perhaps one of the biggest factors that can affect soldiers' judgment.

"When you're exposed to that kind of stress, there's a readiness to be more passive and accept external authority, especially in a command structure," Shaw said. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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