When military personnel return home from deployment, they often struggle to adjust to civilian life. Exposure to traumatic incidents, like those troops witness in combat, is known to increase the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. A new study from King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) at King’s College London (KCL) in England examined the mental health of UK troops after they returned home from deployment. The study found that in the six months after returning home, military personnel struggle with mental health. The findings indicate a need for greater psychological support for returning troops.
Study participants were from all ranks of the UK military and from multiple branches, including the navy, marines, and air force. All of the participants had completed an operational tour in Afghanistan. The study began when participants were in a period of “decompression,” a 24 to 36 hour period that serves as the first stage of adaptation to civilian life. The researchers surveyed the participants’ mental health and examined their difficulties in adjusting to life after deployment three and six months after decompression.
The researchers expected to find that mental health improved over time after troops returned home. In fact, based on the self-reported data, mental health disorders and associated functional impairments worsened in the period after returning from deployment. Symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety increased at the three-month and six-month follow-ups, but only PTSD symptoms increased to statistically significant levels.
“When troops return from combat we expected to see their emotional well-being gradually improve over time. However, we were surprised to find that poor mental health actually increased in the months after coming home, which underlies the need to better support UK troops during this important transitional period as they readjust to life at home,” stated Neil Greenberg, process of Defense Mental Health at KCL.
The study has implications for military personnel and their families. The researchers indicate that the findings highlight the need for evidence-based interventions in this transitional period. They also call for long-term studies to determine whether these problems persist over time.
This research is published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
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