Troops report stress problems

The Army’s first study of the mental health of servicemen and servicewomen who fought in Iraq found that about one in eight reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The survey also showed that less than half of those with problems sought help, mostly out of fear of being stigmatized or hurting their careers.

The survey of Army and Marine combat units was conducted a few months after their return from Iraq or Afghanistan last year. Most studies of past wars’ effects on mental health were done years later, making it difficult to compare the latest results with those from the Vietnam or Persian Gulf wars, said Dr. Charles Hoge, one of the researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Of particular concern, he said, is that troops with problems are not seeking care.

“The most important thing we can do for service members who have been in combat is to help them understand that the earlier that they get help when they need it, the better off they’ll be,” Hoge said.

The study is published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Once called shell shock or combat fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, feelings of detachment, irritability, trouble concentrating and sleeplessness.

Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, said it is remarkable to have the study’s results available while there are still troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he said he believes the estimates are conservative, and it may be too early to determine the extent of mental problems.

“I’m not an alarmist, but I think this is a serious problem. It may be worse just because of the nature of the war,” he said, citing extended tours of duty and the change of mission from liberation to occupation.

In the study of 6,201 service members, the researchers surveyed four different groups: Army brigades before they went to Iraq, after six months in Afghanistan and after eight months in Iraq; and Marine battalions after six months in Iraq.

The soldiers and Marines filled out anonymous questionnaires asking about their mental health, their use of mental health services and their combat experience. The returning troops took the survey three to four months after coming home.

Only active-duty combat troops were questioned.

Symptoms of major depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder were reported by 16 percent to 17 percent of those who served in Iraq, 11 percent of those who were in Afghanistan and 9 percent questioned before they left.

The differences were greatest for post-traumatic stress disorder, with about twice as many with PTSD after Iraq (12 percent) than Afghanistan (6 percent). Before deployment, the rate was 5 percent, about the same as the general U.S. population.

The troops in Iraq saw more combat, including firefights and attacks, than those in Afghanistan. The Iraq units took part in the early fighting of the war.

Studies done years after the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars showed the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder at the time was 15 percent for Vietnam veterans and 2 percent to 10 percent for Gulf War veterans, the researchers reported.

In the latest study, only 38 percent to 40 percent of those who indicated mental health disorders were interested in getting help, and 23 to 40 percent reported seeing someone for help. They cited concerns about how they would be seen by peers and potential damage to their careers.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Everett police officers survey the scene of a shooting along East Casino Road on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington’s 5th police academy could be in Snohomish County

A new academy in Northwest Washington would help clear a lengthy wait list for new police hires to get training.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.