http://www.kcl.ac.uk/phpnews/wmview.php?ArtID=1882; accessed on 2nd of october
Tess Browne with Professors Matthew Hotopf and Simon Wessely, with colleagues from the King's Centre for Military Health Research, have today published a new study which highlights problems UK reservists experience before and after deployment – one indicator as to why this group has more mental health problems than regular soldiers.
The findings published in this month's British Journal of Psychiatry (June) indicate that the main differences relate more to problems at home than to what actually happens to reservists in Iraq.
The research team originally conducted a large MOD-funded survey that involved around 1,600 reservists and 8,500 regulars who went on Operation Telic ‘British Operations in Iraq' in 2003. The survey indicated that around 25 per cent of reservists experienced a mental health disorder compared with 19 per cent of regular soldiers.
The follow-up survey published today was designed to examine the differences between the two groups and suggests a lack of support for soldiers and families, before and after being deployed.
One of the authors of the new study, Professor Wessely comments that reservists tended to be older and of higher rank than the regular forces sent into war zones. They reported higher exposure to traumatic experiences than regular soldiers, lower unit cohesion, and more problems adjusting to homecoming.
He adds: ‘Improvements have been made to support serving reservists. We are now looking into whether this has been matched by similar changes in support for their families back at home.'
UK personnel deployed in the war completed a health survey about their experiences. Their health was measured using self-report of common mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fatigue, physical symptoms and well-being. It was found that there were major differences in the reservists' socio-demographic characteristics, in the way they were deployed, and their reported experiences during deployment.
Although reservists were more likely to report their families feeling proud of their contribution compared with regular personnel, they also experienced more difficulties and less marital satisfaction on their return.
The study reports that a large number of the reservists were engaged in medical and welfare roles, aiding the wounded and handling bodies. This could have accounted for their higher exposure to traumatic experiences. They were also less likely to discharge their weapons, or come under small arms fire, reflecting the relatively few reservists in combat roles (11per cent compared with 25per cent of regulars). However, reservists were more likely to report coming under artillery fire, or thinking that they might be killed.
Unit cohesion has been shown to be the single most important sustaining and motivating force among troops, and psychological problems are more common in soldiers who do not form close relationships within their unit. Professor Wessely continues: ‘It is generally more difficult for an individual reservist than if you are part of a large formal unit.'
Research has shown that reservists are at greater risk of psychological stress because of rapid mobilisation, leaving them minimal time to process fears, and put their affairs in order. The unexpected disruption to families and careers, and resulting financial pressures, may have contributed to problems at home among the reservists.
Since the Iraq War began in January 2003, more than 12,000 reservists have been deployed, making up 11per cent of the UK forces in Iraq.
The UK Ministry of Defence has recently changed its policy to provide more mental health services for reservists, who previously were not eligible to use Defence Medical Services following deployment.