The deployed environment poses special challenges to the delivery of effective in-theatre mental health care. Our study sought to identify the prevalence and impact of symptoms of mental health problems in Canadian Forces (CF) personnel serving in Task Force Afghanistan; and, to determine the use of, and perceived need for, mental health services in CF personnel while deployed.
Our study consisted of a cross-sectional survey of all 2779 CF personnel deployed to the province of Kandahar, Afghanistan, from February 15, 2010, to March 15, 2010.
An important minority (8.5%) of the 1572 respondents (response rate = 57%) exceeded civilian criteria for symptoms of acute traumatic stress, major depression, or generalized anxiety. Prevalence of these 3 mental health problems increased with higher combat exposure and location in more isolated posts. A much larger fraction (31%) reported suffering a stress, emotional, alcohol, or family problem during the deployment. Only a minority of respondents with a mental health problem (26%) were currently interested in getting help. Almost one-half of respondents with a mental health problem perceived occupational dysfunction as a result, though two-thirds of respondents with occupational dysfunction were in the group without the 3 mental health problems assessed.
The needs base for psychosocial support extends beyond personnel who meet conventional questionnaire criteria for traumatic stress, depression, or generalized anxiety. Future research is needed to understand what precise problems are driving this larger needs base and what precise supports (clinical or nonclinical) would be most appropriate.