In the U.S. Army, a little mental health screening goes a long way, study finds

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Screening soldiers for mental health issues before deploying them to Iraq helps reduce psychiatric or behavioral problems by more than three-quarters, according to a study published online Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was conducted by Army Maj. Christopher Warner and four colleagues, who looked at a total of 21,031 U.S. Army soldiers in six brigades sent off to the same area in Iraq – three whose members were screened before being deployed, and three brigades whose members went before the screening procedures were put in place in 2007.

Soldiers were asked a list of questions, including whether they were experiencing side effects from any antidepressants taken and whether they had a past or recent history of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, plans or attempts.


Those who were marked for further screening were promptly sent to be evaluated by a mental health provider, who looked at the severity and stability of any symptoms, among other things, to determine whether soldiers were fit for duty.

Out of the 10,678 soldiers in the three screened brigades, 819 were sent for more evaluation, and 74 of those soldiers were not cleared to deploy. Ninety-six were allowed to deploy but with conditions attached.

On the whole, the researchers found that over six-month periods, psychiatric or behavioral problems among the screened brigades serving in Iraq were 78% lower, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors were 50% lower.

The study indicates that what appears to be a simple step – implementing screening processes – is resulting in improvements in the field.

For civilians looking for information on where to find mental health services, see the National Institute of Mental Health’s page on the subject.