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Monday, July 23, 2007

PTSD Figures for Canada's Afghanistan Veterans

From the Canadian Press:

Numbers obtained by The Canadian Press show that of 1,300 Forces members who served in Afghanistan since 2005 and underwent a post-deployment screening, 28 per cent had symptoms suggestive of one or more mental health problems. Of those, 16 per cent showed signs of high-risk drinking and just over six per cent were possibly suffering from PTSD. Five per cent showed symptoms of major depression.

The numbers aren’t alarming, says Dr. Mark Zamorski of the deployment health section of the Canadian Forces, but they do show how negative combat experiences are contributing to mental health problems.

For example, only eight per cent of troops who completed post-deployment questionnaires after rotations in Kabul — a less hostile mission than the current operation in Kandahar — showed signs of mental health issues. "The magnitude of the health impact is about what we’d expect given the nature of the deployment," Zamorski said in an interview from Ottawa where he conducts research on ways to mitigate adverse health consequences on members of the Forces. "Mental health problems are a major source of casualties these days."

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The military says it has gone to great lengths to make sure soldiers are as prepared as they can be before they deploy to deal with stress injuries as they develop. Officials have also added several screening steps when soldiers return to help identify signs of stress disorders.

Troops are briefed in theatre before they return to Canada on what it will be like adjusting to life at home and back in the garrison. All soldiers who have been away for more than 60 days have to complete a detailed questionnaire that can indicate if they might have an operational stress injury. And they are supposed to undergo an interview with a health professional. If they are found to be in need of help, Zamorski says they can take advantage of several resources on and off base.

There is a new anonymous toll-free number staffed by health practitioners, specialized operational stress injury clinics, and trauma and stress support centres on bases across the country. And Ottawa has pledged to boost the number of mental health workers to more than 400 by 2009.

Some soldiers are also now trained in identifying potential stress problems so they can offer peer support while overseas. "I'm proud that we really are doing the very best we can to take care of people who serve the country," he said. "Not that we don't have some work to do in terms of combating stigma in particular, but we have mechanisms to try to identify people early and we've got multiple mechanisms for care."

But only a fraction of redeployed troops have completed the questionnaire or undergone the interview, raising the likelihood that some are falling through the cracks. Out of about 4,800 people who had returned from Afghanistan and were required to have the screening, 2,900 were still due for it and only 1,257 had completed the questionnaire.

The reason for the low numbers? "The units are too busy doing other things, like getting ready for the next operation," said Zamorski.

Read the rest for a few personal stories and details.

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