Rise in Military Personnel Treated for Mental Disorders

SILVER SPRING, MD – The percentage of military servicemembers in treatment for mental disorders was 2.5 times higher in 2012 than in 2000, according to a new study from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC).

The study, published recently in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR), found that about 1 in 29 active component military personnel were being treated for mental disorders at any timepoint during 2012.1

Less than 1% of active-duty servicemembers were treated for mental disorders in 2000, before the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001 led to military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the number had risen to 3.5% by 2012, the AFHSC report said.

For the study, researchers reviewed inpatient and outpatient medical records to estimate the numbers and proportions of servicemembers who received such treatment and the durations and intensities of courses of treatment.

“This report shows that the Military Health System has been delivering more and more medical care for mental disorders each year since 2000,” said Navy Capt. Kevin L. Russell, director of the AFHSC. “It also appears that the MHS has expanded its capability to meet the increasing demand for mental health services.”

Overall, the study looked at 2,698,903 mental disorder-related treatment courses ranging from 132,079 in 2000 to 232,184 in 2012. More than half of the servicemembers receiving a mental health diagnosis, 57.7%, had only one treatment course, however. About 20% had two treatment courses, slightly less than 10% had three treatment courses and only 11.8% of those had more than three treatment courses.

Still, the annual number of treatment courses increased by 60% during the 13-year surveillance period, according to the study. The authors pointed out that situations where military personnel had more than 30 treatment encounters increased 5.6-fold between 2001 and 2012, with the mean number of days per treatment course markedly increasing during the last half of the period.

“Despite the decline in combat operations in recent years, medical care for mental disorders among servicemembers has been on the rise,” Russell said. “If this upward trend reflects focused efforts to increase access to mental health care and to reduce the stigma associated with seeking such care, it may persist well after warfighting ends.”

1Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC). Numbers and proportions of U.S. military members in treatment for mental disorders over time, active component, January 2000-September 2013. MSMR. 2014 May;21(5):2-7. PubMed PMID:24885876.

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