Mental Health of Canadian Forces Members While on Deployment to Afghanistan

By Garber, Bryan G.; Zamorski, Mark A. et al. | Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, December 2012 | Go to article overview
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Mental Health of Canadian Forces Members While on Deployment to Afghanistan

Garber, Bryan G., Zamorski, Mark A., Jetly, Rakesh, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

Objective: The deployed environment poses special challenges to the delivery of effective in-theatre mental health care. Our study sought to identify the prevalence and impact of symptoms of mental health problems in Canadian Forces (CF) personnel serving in Task Force Afghanistan; and, to determine the use of, and perceived need for, mental health services in CF personnel while deployed.

Methods: Our study consisted of a cross-sectional survey of all 2779 CF personnel deployed to the province of Kandahar, Afghanistan, from February 15, 2010, to March 15, 2010.

Results: An important minority (8.5%) of the 1572 respondents (response rate = 57%) exceeded civilian criteria for symptoms of acute traumatic stress, major depression, or generalized anxiety. Prevalence of these 3 mental health problems increased with higher combat exposure and location in more isolated posts. A much larger fraction (31%) reported suffering a stress, emotional, alcohol, or family problem during the deployment. Only a minority of respondents with a mental health problem (26%) were currently interested in getting help. Almost one-half of respondents with a mental health problem perceived occupational dysfunction as a result, though two-thirds of respondents with occupational dysfunction were in the group without the 3 mental health problems assessed.

Conclusions: The needs base for psychosocial support extends beyond personnel who meet conventional questionnaire criteria for traumatic stress, depression, or generalized anxiety. Future research is needed to understand what precise problems are driving this larger needs base and what precise supports (clinical or nonclinical) would be most appropriate.

Objectif : L'environnement de déploiement pose des problèmes particuliers à la prestation de soins de santé mentale efficaces dans le théâtre d'opérations. Notre étude cherchait à cerner la prévalence et l'effet des symptômes de problèmes de santé mentale chez le personnel des Forces canadiennes (FC) au sein de la Force opérationnelle en Afghanistan; et à déterminer l'utilisation, ainsi que le besoin perçu, des services de santé mentale chez le personnel des FC pendant son déploiement.

Méthodes : Notre étude consistait dans une enquête transversale menée auprès de tous les 2779 membres des FC déployés dans la province de Kandahar, en Afghanistan, du 15 février 2010 au 15 mars 2010.

Résultats : Une importante minorité (8,5 %) des 1572 répondants (taux de réponse = 57 %) excédait les critères civils du stress traumatique aigu, de la dépression majeure, ou de l'anxiété généralisée. La prévalence de ces 3 problèmes de santé mentale s'accroissait avec une plus grande exposition au combat et l'affectation à des postes plus isolés. Une fraction beaucoup plus importante (31 %) a déclaré souffrir d'un problème émotionnel, de stress, d'alcool, ou de famille durant le déploiement. Seule une minorité de répondants souffrant d'un problème de santé mentale (26 %) était présentement intéressée à obtenir de l'aide. Presque la moitié des répondants souffrant d'un problème de santé mentale percevait la dysfonction professionnelle comme étant un résultat, même si les deux tiers des répondants présentant une dysfonction professionnelle étaient dans le groupe de ceux qui n'avaient pas les 3 problèmes de santé mentale évalués.

Conclusions : La base des besoins de soutien psychosocial s étend au-delà du personnel qui satisfait aux critères classiques du questionnaire pour le stress traumatique, la dépression, ou l'anxiété généralisée. Il faut plus de recherche pour comprendre quels problèmes précis provoquent l'élargissement de cette base de besoins et quels soutiens précis (cliniques ou non) seraient plus appropriés.

Key Words: mental disorders, military personnel, stress disorders, posttraumatic, epidemiology, use of health services, workplace

Received February 2012, revised, and accepted May 2012.


CF Canadian Forces

HDO Human Dimensions of Operations Survey

MHAT Mental Health Advisory Team Survey

NCM noncommissioned member

OMHA Operational Mental Health Assessment

PCL-C PTSD Checklist, Civilian Version

PHQ Patient Health Questionnaire

PTSD posttraumatic stress disorder

Mental health problems occur in the CF, with 15.

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