Combat and stress are up among U.S. military in Afghanistan
An increase in combat in Afghanistan in 2010 led to more U.S. casualties and higher stress among service members, a survey found.
The percentage of soldiers who reported killing an enemy
combatant rose from 33 percent to 48 percent from 2009 to
2010 according to a survey by a mental health advisory team.
In addition, 62 percent of soldiers and almost 67 percent
of Marines reported surviving a blast of an improvised
explosive device, and more than 70 percent of both soldiers
and Marines reported that a member of their unit had been
killed in combat.
“Mostly what’s reflected in the data [are] the incredibly high
rates of combat,” says Col. Paul Bliese, PhD, of the Center for
Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army
Institute of Research. He led the survey team of Army, Navy
and Air Force psychologists, researchers and behavioral health
technicians to Afghanistan in July 2010.
This combat exposure has dampened morale and increased
feelings of acute stress, says Bliese.
The team surveyed 1,246 soldiers and Marines drawn from
randomly selected combat platoons. They found that 17 percent
of soldiers reported acute stress last year, compared with 13
percent in 2009. In addition, the survey found that just over 15
percent of soldiers on their third or fourth deployment said they
took medication for a mental health condition compared with
less than 5 percent of soldiers on their first deployment.
The percentage of Marines who reported acute stress,
depression or anxiety was just under 19 percent — more than
twice the percentage of a similar sample from Iraq in 2007.
Unit morale was also a problem, with only 12 percent of
Marines reporting high or very high morale compared with 23
percent from a 2007 Iraq survey.
Now that the survey is complete, Bliese wants to follow
up with units that experienced a lot of combat since prior
research suggests that those who directly witness and
participate in such violent experiences are more likely to have
psychological problems three to six months after returning
home, he says.
“We want to make sure they’re given the best of the best
when they come back. It’s not a trivial matter,” Bliese says.