Pentagon Study Finds Mental Disorders Most Frequent Medical Diagnosis Before Separation
A new Pentagon study published in the June edition of the Monthly Surveillance Military Report has revealed that mental health disorders were the most common diagnosis servicemembers’ received prior to separating.
The study, conducted by the Defense Health Agency, looked at 45,000 troops who served 4-15 years beginning in 2000 and separated in 2014 and 2015.
This study appears to be one of the first to examine diagnostic trends over specified time points during the careers of individual service members, and several trends were identified that could offer opportunities for preventive interventions.
Entrance into the U.S. Armed Forces requires a minimum level of health and fitness among applicants, making active component service members, at least upon entry, healthier than their civilian counterparts. With that said, serving in the military certainly presents its own set unique stressors, including combat deployments, frequent moves, long hours and time away from family. Additionally, the act of separating on its own causes stress as the servicemember has to deal with the sense of alienation many veterans feel after they leave the military.
While serving, there is the mission, the job, the camaraderie and the bonds. When servicemembers transition to civilian life, that sense of purpose and fulfillment can be lost, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties.
Compared to prior studies, separating service members seem to be different from those retiring with respect to the incidence of medical conditions prior to leaving service. Voluntarily separating service members without disability have more difficulty accessing VA healthcare than retiring individuals or those who are medically separated.
“Depression and anxiety — these are part of normal human life,” said Dr. Harold Kudler, a psychiatrist and Duke University professor who recently retired as chief consultant for the Department of Veteran Affairs’ mental health services. “They’re not always illnesses. If you’re in a room with a tiger and you’re anxious — there’s nothing wrong with that.”