The Stresses of Coming Home for Vets

Stress of readjustment for veterans makes them more likely to seek mental health treatment

(RxWiki News) They say you can never go home again. But thousands of veterans do, and it's not easy. But that can be a good thing.

A recent study found that difficulty with adjustment motivates many vets to seek help. Then, they are more likely to get treatment for PTSD.

"Seek help for PTSD."

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person has experienced a very traumatic event or series of events.

Usually, the events are life threatening, and the disorder is prevalent among veterans returning from the battlefield. Military suicides have been increasing rapidly, so mental health professionals are seeking ways to help more returning soldiers.

This study was led by Alejandro Interian, PhD, who works in both the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Healthcare System's Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences and in the Department of Psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Interian and colleagues surveyed 157 soldiers about three months after they returned from combat service in Iraq.

All the soldiers had enough symptoms of PTSD to be classified as suffering from the disorder.

The survey included questions about the mental health services they used after returning from Iraq and about nine different stressful aspects of readjusting to home.

These stressors included marital problems, a decision to divorce or separate with a spouse, problems with children, a worsened job status, a lost job or business, serious financial problems, problems paying the mortgage, a foreclosure and a family member or loved one becoming ill or dying.

They found that 72 percent of the soldiers experienced at least one stressor. In addition, the more stressors they experienced, the more likely they were to seek treatment.

These results remained true regardless of whether they were diagnosed with depression and regardless of how severe their PTSD was.

However, when the scientists adjusted their findings to account for the soldiers' ages and marital status, the link between the stressors and their willingness to seek treatment was no longer apparent.

Still, the researchers concluded that soldiers may be more likely to seek treatment if they are experiencing these stressors than if they only have symptoms of PTSD without these stressors going on as well.

This appears to be true at least primarily for those who are older and have families and therefore more responsibilities.

"These effects appeared to be at least partially accounted for by demographic variables and the role of greater familial and occupational responsibilities among older veterans," the researchers wrote. "Treatment seeking may be motivated by social encouragement or social interference and less by symptom severity."

The study was published September 1 in the journal Psychiatric Services. It was funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans
Affairs. The authors reported no conflicting interests.

Review Date: 
September 3, 2012