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First major study of mental health of UK armed forces in Iraq

01 November 2010

Researchers from Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s have carried out the first major study of the mental health of UK armed forces while they are on deployment. Their findings are published in the November issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Professor Neil Greenberg and colleagues from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, based at the IoP, conducted the study in Iraq in January and February 2009. Six hundred and eleven armed forces personnel, who were based in eight locations across Iraq, completed a questionnaire about their deployment experiences and health. This number represents about 15% of the UK personnel deployed in Iraq at the time.

The majority of the personnel (92.6%) rated their overall health as good, very good or excellent. Personnel were more likely to report good health if they were of officer rank, if they felt their unit was very cohesive and had supportive leadership, and if they had taken a period of rest and recuperation in an area outside the operational theatre.

Of the 611 personnel, 20.5% showed signs of experiencing symptoms of psychological distress and 3.4% had probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These rates are similar to those that have been found among service personnel who are not on deployment. They are also lower than in other high-stress occupations such as police officers, doctors in emergency departments and disaster workers.

The researchers found that psychological distress was more common among personnel who were young, female, in the army, and of junior rank. PTSD was more common among personnel of junior rank, among those who reported feeling in danger of being killed, and who had higher combat exposure. Personnel who reported sick for any reason during their deployment were also more likely to have symptoms of psychological distress.

At the end of the questionnaire, 11% of the personnel said they would be interested in receiving help for a stress, emotional or family problem. These personnel were more likely to be in the junior ranks.

Professor Greenberg said: 'Most research on the mental health of UK armed forces personnel has been conducted either before or after deployment – we know very little about their mental health while they are deployed on operations.

'Our study suggested little overall effect of deployment on mental health. Interestingly, those who told us they remembered having a pre-deployment stress briefing reported significantly better mental health than those who did not. Although there is a policy that requires personnel to be given a pre-deployment brief, our study suggested this policy needs to be more rigorously enforced. In addition, although most units have some in-unit medical support, the training for medical staff has only recently begun to be standardised to ensure it covers mental health disorders. Improving training, as well as raising awareness among staff of the link between personnel reporting sick and having poorer mental health, may help identify those in most need of psychological help.'

‘Mental health of UK military personnel while on deployment in Iraq’ is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. To read the paper in full, please follow the link:

Another paper from KCMHR features in a recent post on the respected blog Mind Hacks, regarding the difference between UK and US armed forces' mental health ( Mind Hacks describes the paper as a 'fantastic discussion of how UK armed forces manage mental health'. The paper, published in Military Medicine, can be accessed via the KCMH website here:




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