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Newswise — SILVER SPRING, MD, June 6, 2014 – Approximately 1 in 29 active component U.S. military service members were in treatment for mental disorders at any given time during 2012, which is 2.5 times higher than the an estimate for 2000, according to a new health surveillance report released today.
The estimated proportion of all military members in treatment for mental disorders was 3.5 percent in 2012 compared to 0.99 percent in 2000, the year preceding the September 11 terrorist attacks and the beginning of the ground combat in Afghanistan, said the report published in the May issue of the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC).
This report examines trends in health record documentation of the treatment for mental disorders of active component service members from January 2000 through December 2012. Inpatient and outpatient records were used to estimate the numbers and proportions of service members 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 Captain 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.”
During each year of the surveillance period, from 132,079 in 2000 to 232,184 in 2012 active component members received initial diagnoses of mental disorders, the report said. The affected service members accounted for 2,698,903 mental disorder-related treatment courses overall based on the definition of treatment course determined by the authors.
Of all service members with at least one mental disorder-specific diagnosis during the period, more than half (57.7 percent) had only one treatment course. Approximately 1 in 5 (20.9 percent) affected service members had two treatment courses, 1 in 10 (9.7 percent) had three treatment courses, and 1 in 8 (11.8 percent) had more than three treatment courses. Over the entire period, the mean number of treatment courses per affected service member was 1.94.
But, the annual numbers of such single treatment courses increased by 60 percent during the 13-year surveillance period. Annual numbers of treatment courses that consisted of more than 30 encounters increased 5.6-fold between 2001 and 2012 and the mean number of days per treatment course markedly increased during the last half of the period.
“Despite the decline in combat operations in recent years, medical care for mental disorders among service members has been on the rise,” Captain 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.”
The results are assessed in relation to those of recent studies that have estimated the prevalences of mental disorders in selected subgroups of veterans and actively serving military populations. Most assessments of the behavioral health of veterans and active military members have relied on responses to questionnaires by volunteer participants.
The MSMR report’s estimates of prevalences of mental disorders may seem inconsistent with the findings based on other surveys and studies. For example, recent studies have generally estimated that 10 percent to 25 percent of military populations—of various types, in various settings, and at various times—have at least one mental disorder or “psychological problem.”
In contrast, this report estimates that, at any given time over the past 13 years, only 1.0 percent in 2000 to 3.5 percent in 2012 of active component members overall were in treatment for mental disorders. The large differences between the findings of this and other reports should be interpreted cautiously.
“It’s difficult to make direct comparisons between the results of the MSMR study and other previous estimates of the prevalence of mental disorders in the military,” Captain Russell said. “The clearest inference from the apparent differences in findings is that the methods used and the populations studied must have been quite different.”
Click here to read entire study. The MSMR is the flagship publication for the AFHSC, featuring articles on evidence-based estimates of the incidence, distribution, impact and trends of illness and injuries among U.S. military service members and associated populations.