Mental health problems stable among British troops: study

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Major psychological problems among British troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan remain at a relatively low level, and multiple deployments do not appear to weigh on their mental health, a study published on Thursday said.

Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among British troops between 2003 and 2009 were between three and four percent, according to the paper, published in the British journal The Lancet.

Multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan do not seem to have an effect on prevalence of PTSD, it said.

However, personnel deployed there have a 22-percent higher risk of alcohol misuse than fellow troops who have not been deployed.

The study, headed by Nicola Fear and Simon Wessely of King's College London, is based on questionnaire filled in by 9,990 men and women between November 2007 and September 2009.

The researchers published a first study in 2006, looking at rates of PTSD among British troops between 2003 and 2005.

They said the finding that PTSD prevalence has remained unchanged over the years is "reassuring (but) is also surprising."

"The war in Iraq turned out to be a prolonged deployment, and UK military personnel in southern Iraq began to be exposed to increased levels of combat," the authors said.

"Further, there has been an escalation in the UK commitment to Afghanistan, with substantial numbers of UK military personnel being deployed to Helmand province, where fighting has been intense.

"Many UK military personnel have now had multiple deployments to either or both operational locations, yet we noted that multiple deployments were not associated with mental health disorders."

PTSD is a term encompassing a range of health problems, including anxiety, depression and nightmares, as well as physical symptoms such as a racing heart and sweating.

In an editorial, The Lancet took aim at British media reports that said there was "an epidemic of mental health problems" among the British armed forces.

It urged vigilance, though, in monitoring alcohol abuse and ensuring that war veterans were given adequate support after they left the armed forces.

© 2010 AFP

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