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Deployment of personnel to military operations: impact on mental health and social functioning

Additional Info

  • Authors: Martin Bøg, Trine Filges, Anne Marie Klint Jørgensen
  • Published date: 2018-06-01
  • Coordinating group(s): Education, Social Welfare
  • Type of document: Review, Plain language summary
  • Title: Deployment of personnel to military operations: impact on mental health and social functioning
  • Library Image: Library Image
  • See the full review: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/csr.2018.6
  • Records available in: English, Spanish
  • English:

    PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

    Deployment to military operations negatively affects the mental health functioning of deployed military personnel

    While additional research is needed, the current evidence strongly supports the notion that deployment negatively affects mental health functioning of deployed military personnel.

    What is this review about?

    When military personnel are deployed to military operations abroad they face an increased risk of physical harm, and an increased risk of adverse shocks to their mental health.

    The primary condition under consideration is deployment to an international military operation. Deployment to a military operation is not a uniform condition; rather, it covers a range of scenarios. Military deployment is defined as performing military service in an operation at a location outside the home country for a limited time period, pursuant to orders.

    The review included studies that reported outcomes for individuals who had been deployed. This review looked at the effect of deployment on mental health outcomes. The mental health outcomes are: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), common mental disorders (depression, anxiety and somatisation disorders) and substance-related disorders.

    By identifying the major effects of deployment on mental health and quantifying these effects, the review can inform policy development on deployment and military activity as well as post-deployment support for veterans. In this way the review enables decision-makers to prioritise key areas.

    What is the aim of this review?

    This Campbell systematic review examines the effects of deployment on mental health. The review summarizes evidence from 185 studies. All studies used observational data to quantify the effect of deployment.

    What studies are included?

    This review includes studies that evaluate the effects of deployment on mental health. A total of 185 studies were identified. However, only 40 of these were assessed to be of sufficient methodological quality to be included in the final analysis. The studies spanned the period from 1993 to 2017 and were mostly carried out in the USA, UK and Australia. The studies all had some important methodological weaknesses. None of the included studies used experimental designs (random assignment).

    What are the main findings of this review?

    Does deployment have an effect on mental health?

    Deployment to military operations negatively affects the mental health functioning of deployed military personnel. For assessments taken more than 24 months since exposure, we consistently found adverse effects of deployment on all mental health domains (PTSD, depression, substance abuse/dependence, and common mental disorders), particularly on PTSD. For assessments taken less than 24 months (or a variable number of months since exposure) the evidence was less consistent and in many instances inconclusive.

    What do the findings of this review mean?

    The odds of screening positive for PTSD and depression were consistently high in the longer term. This suggests that efforts should be increased to detect and treat mental disorders, as effects may be long-lasting.

    Overall the risk of bias in the majority of included studies was high. While it is difficult to imagine a randomised study design to understand how deployment affects mental health, other matters such as changes to personnel policy, or unanticipated shocks to the demand for military personnel, could potentially be a rich source of quasi-experimental variation.

    How up-to-date is this review?

    The review authors searched for studies up to April 2017.

  • Spanish:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Spanish.

Select language:

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

Deployment to military operations negatively affects the mental health functioning of deployed military personnel

While additional research is needed, the current evidence strongly supports the notion that deployment negatively affects mental health functioning of deployed military personnel.

What is this review about?

When military personnel are deployed to military operations abroad they face an increased risk of physical harm, and an increased risk of adverse shocks to their mental health.

The primary condition under consideration is deployment to an international military operation. Deployment to a military operation is not a uniform condition; rather, it covers a range of scenarios. Military deployment is defined as performing military service in an operation at a location outside the home country for a limited time period, pursuant to orders.

The review included studies that reported outcomes for individuals who had been deployed. This review looked at the effect of deployment on mental health outcomes. The mental health outcomes are: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), common mental disorders (depression, anxiety and somatisation disorders) and substance-related disorders.

By identifying the major effects of deployment on mental health and quantifying these effects, the review can inform policy development on deployment and military activity as well as post-deployment support for veterans. In this way the review enables decision-makers to prioritise key areas.

What is the aim of this review?

This Campbell systematic review examines the effects of deployment on mental health. The review summarizes evidence from 185 studies. All studies used observational data to quantify the effect of deployment.

What studies are included?

This review includes studies that evaluate the effects of deployment on mental health. A total of 185 studies were identified. However, only 40 of these were assessed to be of sufficient methodological quality to be included in the final analysis. The studies spanned the period from 1993 to 2017 and were mostly carried out in the USA, UK and Australia. The studies all had some important methodological weaknesses. None of the included studies used experimental designs (random assignment).

What are the main findings of this review?

Does deployment have an effect on mental health?

Deployment to military operations negatively affects the mental health functioning of deployed military personnel. For assessments taken more than 24 months since exposure, we consistently found adverse effects of deployment on all mental health domains (PTSD, depression, substance abuse/dependence, and common mental disorders), particularly on PTSD. For assessments taken less than 24 months (or a variable number of months since exposure) the evidence was less consistent and in many instances inconclusive.

What do the findings of this review mean?

The odds of screening positive for PTSD and depression were consistently high in the longer term. This suggests that efforts should be increased to detect and treat mental disorders, as effects may be long-lasting.

Overall the risk of bias in the majority of included studies was high. While it is difficult to imagine a randomised study design to understand how deployment affects mental health, other matters such as changes to personnel policy, or unanticipated shocks to the demand for military personnel, could potentially be a rich source of quasi-experimental variation.

How up-to-date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies up to April 2017.

Library Image

See the full review

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