Most research on the mental health of UK armed forces personnel has been conducted either before or after deployment; there is scant evidence concerning personnel while they are on deployment.
To assess the mental health of UK armed forces personnel deployed in Iraq and identify gaps in the provision of support on operations.
Personnel completed a questionnaire about their deployment experiences and health status. Primary outcomes were psychological distress (General Health Questionnaire–12, GHQ–12), symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and self-rating of overall health.
Of 611 participants, 20.5% scored above the cut-off on the GHQ–12 and 3.4% scored as having probable PTSD. Higher risk of psychological distress was associated with younger age, female gender, weaker unit cohesion, poorer perceived leadership and non-receipt of a pre-deployment stress brief. Perceived threat to life, poorer perceived leadership and non-receipt of a stress brief were risk factors for symptoms of PTSD. Better self-rated overall health was associated with being a commissioned officer, stronger unit cohesion and having taken a period of rest and recuperation. Personnel who reported sick for any reason during deployment were more likely to report psychological symptoms. Around 11% reported currently being interested in receiving help for a psychological problem.
In an established operational theatre the prevalence of common psychopathology was similar to rates found in non-deployed military samples. However, there remains scope for further improving in-theatre support mechanisms, raising awareness of the link between reporting sick and mental health and ensuring implementation of current policy to deliver pre-deployment stress briefs.
- © 2010 Royal College of Psychiatrists