Predeployment Screen Linked to Fewer Mental Health Issues

Predeployment mental health screening may reduce incidence of combat stress, other disorders

FRIDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Predeployment mental health screening in soldiers is associated with reductions in occupationally impairing mental health problems, fewer medical evacuations due to mental health reasons, and less suicidal ideation while deployed, according to a study published online Jan. 18 in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Christopher H. Warner, M.D., of the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and colleagues assessed whether predeployment mental health screening decreased negative outcomes during the first six months of deployment in Iraq in 2007. During standard predeployment medical screening, 10,678 combat soldiers received mental health screening, and further mental health evaluations if indicated. Mental health-related clinical encounters and evacuations during deployment were compared with 10,353 combat soldiers who did not undergo predeployment screening.

The researchers found that 819 soldiers who were screened required further mental health evaluation; of these, 74 were not cleared to deploy and 96 were deployed with additional requirements. Soldiers in the screened brigades had significantly lower rates of clinical contacts for suicidal ideation, combat stress, and psychiatric disorders compared with the unscreened brigades. The screened brigades also had lower rates of occupational impairment and air evacuation for behavioral health reasons.

"This is a timely and important study, considering the congressional mandate to conduct such screenings uniformly in all deploying personnel," the authors write. "These results show that an aggressive program of mental health screening, tracking, and coordination of care may enhance a unit's functioning while decreasing negative soldier outcomes."

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