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Poor homecoming impacts Reservist's mental health

The results of a study of published this month in the Annals of Epidemiology have highlighted the importance of the unique difficulties Reservists face when returning from an overseas tour of duty.  

The study, led by Dr Samuel Harvey at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, followed just under 5,000 UK military personnel who had been deployed to operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Compared to regular military personnel, Reservists were significantly more likely to report experiencing problems with social support and functioning in the immediate period after they return home.   

Over two-thirds of Reservists reported adverse post-deployment experiences, with nearly 70% feeling other people did not understand what they had been through and over one-third having difficulties resuming their usual social activities and feeling unsupported by the military.  Furthermore, Reservists who reported difficulties in the immediate post-deployment periods were three to four times more likely to have symptoms of common mental disorders (depression and/or anxiety) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Dr Harvey says: ‘Reservists have been used to an unprecedented degree in recent overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While the Ministry of Defence has implemented a number of new initiatives aimed at improving the welfare of Reservists, those who deploy continue to be at increased risk of mental health problems.’

‘We already knew that deployment was associated with more mental health problems amongst Reservists compared to regular military personnel and knew this was unlikely to be due to Reservists having a more dangerous time while in a combat zone. However, Reservists occupy a difficult social position in having to move between a military world and their civilian life, suggesting that the experiences Reservists endure after they return from their tour of duty may be important.’  

‘The results we have published show that many Reservists find the transition back to civilian life difficult and that the unique post-deployment challenges faced by Reservists may account for some of their increased rates of mental illness.  Therefore, efforts to improve the mental health of Reservists need to consider what happens after, as well as during, a tour of duty.’

The UK has approximately 36,000 Volunteer Reservists and 52,000 Regular Reservists who perform a variety of different combat and support roles for each of the Armed Services and their numbers are set to be increased. Over 12,000 Reservists have deployed on operations in Iraq (Operation TELIC) contributing around 11 per cent of the operational force. 

The research was funded by the UK Ministry of Defence, the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and the National Institute of Health Research (NHIR) Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. 

Full paper: Harvey S, et al. ‘Coming home: social functioning and the mental health of UK Reservists on return from deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan’, Annals of Epidemiology (doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2011.05.004)

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