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U.S. Service Members and Mental Health Disorders

Sept. 11, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, along with increased military outreach, linked to the rise
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- About 3.5 percent of U.S. military personnel were in treatment for mental health conditions in 2012 -- up from just 1 percent in 2000, a new military study finds.

Experts said the rise is likely due to two factors: an actual increase in mental health disorders since Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; as well as the military's efforts to get more soldiers into treatment.

"That second factor is the positive part of this," said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, a psychiatrist and president of the New York-based Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, which studies post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among service members.

"The military has become more sensitive to the needs of personnel and their families," said Borenstein, who was not involved in the research. "It's been making an effort to ensure that people who need treatment receive treatment."

That said, there may still be many service members who are not getting treatment, according to Borenstein.

Past studies have suggested that PTSD, depression and other mental health conditions are much more common in the military than the treatment rates would imply. One found that psychiatric diagnoses among active-duty troops rose from just over 5 percent in 2003, to 9 percent in 2011.

And various studies have shown that anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of service members have a mental health disorder or "psychological problem" like general anxiety or depression-like symptoms.

"There are people who are still not stepping forward to get help," Borenstein said.

It's true that some service members do not seek treatment, agreed Capt. Kevin Russell, director of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, which conducted the new study.

According to Russell, the military has tried to "diminish the stigma associated with receiving mental health care."

But, Borenstein said, the stigma still exists -- "not only in the military, but in society in general," he noted. So that could be one reason that the treatment rates in this study are lower than rates of mental health conditions in past research, Borenstein said.

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