Comparing Mental Health Among Reservists And Active Duty Military Personnel

Military service is a career choice that may come with many significant sources of stress. The challenge of being deployed and leaving a spouse and children may create major difficulty, even if the deployed individual never encounters a combat zone.

A recent study sought to provide understanding regarding the mental health problems experienced by not only active-duty but also reservists, and including the specific stress of leaving for deployment among these two groups.

One difference between the two groups is the level of military support received. When an individual is active-duty, the individual’s family usually lives near or on a military base and has the availability of resource for those involved in military life.

Reservists don’t usually have these same circumstances, and maintain a civilian job while living in areas not dedicated to military housing. However, these military personnel may be called up for service in combat.

The researchers at RTI International in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina looked at records from approximately 18,000 reservists and 16,000 active-duty military personnel so that they could better understand how the mental health of the two groups differed.

The study was led by Marian E. Lane, Ph.D., of the Substance Abuse, Epidemiology and Military Behavioral Health Program at RTI International. Lane found that when examining mental health among non-deployed personnel, the reservists levels of anxiety were lower and depression and stress symptoms were lower when compared with active-duty personnel.

However, when reservists were deployed, their rates of suicidal ideation and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were much higher than those who were active duty when deployed.

Lane says that the cause may be a stronger reaction among reservists regarding the anxiety that comes with a potential deployment because their lives are largely detached from the day to day interaction with military life. When deployed, reservists experience significant impact on their employment, families and financial situations.

The mental health issues may be experienced not only prior to deployment, but also when the reservist returns. The reservist may be the victim of a sharper decline in mental health before leaving and upon returning.

The authors stress that it is important to consider the differences experienced by these two groups when developing strategies for promoting good mental health among deployed military personnel.

Lane says that additional research focused on providing the best possible mental health care to reservists can help the personnel deploy and reintegrate into civilian life upon their return.

Building awareness about the impact of PTSD among returning military has greatly improved the recovery of military personnel as they complete a deployment.

The findings of the study are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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