Psychological sequelae following the Gulf War. Factors associated with subsequent morbidity and the effectiveness of psychological debriefing

Abstract

BACKGROUND. The aim was to study the effect of brief counselling and psychological debriefing following a trauma on subsequent morbidity. METHOD. We investigated psychological morbidity in 62 British soldiers whose duties included the handling and identification of dead bodies of allied and enemy soldiers during the Gulf War. Of these soldiers, 69% received a psychological debriefing on completion of their duties. The subjects completed by post a demographic questionnaire, the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) and the Impact of Events Scale. RESULTS. After nine months 50% had evidence of some psychological disturbance suggestive of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 18% had sought professional help; 26% reported relationship difficulties. Neither prior training nor the psychological intervention appeared to make any difference to subsequent psychiatric morbidity. Morbidity at nine months was more likely in those with a history of psychological problems and those who believed their lives had been in danger in the Gulf. CONCLUSIONS. These findings show that a psychological debriefing following a series of traumatic events or experiences does not appear to reduce subsequent psychiatric morbidity and highlights the need for further research in military and civilian settings.