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Mental Disorders At Much Higher Rates In Soldiers Than In Civilians

Last updated June 29, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

The largest, most recent study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted on United States military personnel found that many soldiers suffering from some form or mental illness, and rates of many of these disorders were higher in soldiers than in civilians.


The largest, most recent study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted on United States military personnel found that many soldiers suffering from some form or mental illness, and rates of many of these disorders were higher in soldiers than in civilians.


Published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the study consisted of three reports that researched the following areas:

  • The rise in suicide deaths from 2004 to 2009 that occurred not only in currently and previously deployed soldiers, but also soldiers who never deployed.
  • The nearly half of soldiers who reported suicide attempts that indicated their first attempt was prior to enlistment.
  • The soldiers who reported higher rates of certain mental disorders than civilians, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder (recurrent episodes of extreme anger or violence), and substance use disorder.

Ronald Kessler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and senior author of one of the studies had a Harvard press release saying, "The rate of major depression is five times as high among soldiers as civilians, intermittent explosive disorder six times as high, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nearly 15 times as high." 

Ronald Kessler’s study also found almost 25 percent of active-duty, non-deployed Army soldiers surveyed were found to have a mental disorder of some type, and 11 percent within that subgroup were found to have more than one illness. 

The researchers used much of the data from the Army's STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience) to survey almost 5,500 soldiers. One study found that approximately 14 percent of soldiers had thought about taking their lives, while 5.3 percent planned a suicide and 2.4 percent had actually made one or several attempts. 

"These results are a wake-up call highlighting the importance of outreach and intervention for new soldiers who enter the Army with pre-existing mental disorders," Robert Ursano, chair of the department of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and co-principal investigator of the Army STARRS survey, said in the Harvard news release.

The researchers hope to use this data to develop an outreach program for new soldiers and soldiers already in service.

Additional Resources:

Suicide in the military: Army-NIH funded study points to risk and protective factors

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 4, 2014
Last updated: June 29, 2015