Military mental health screening reduces risk for psychiatric issues

Soldiers who are screened for mental health issues before they are deployed have a reduced risk for behavior and psychiatric issues, according to a new study by the American Psychiatric Association.

Major Christopher Warner and colleagues in the U.S. Army conducted the study that included over 20,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq during 2007 and 2008.

Texas Wesleyan University student Aaron Herrera, who is a member of TCU’s Army ROTC program, said he felt the mental health screenings would be advantageous for soldiers preparing for deployment.

“Mental health always was and always will be an issue, and prescreenings will cut down on the incidents both in and out of the military,” said Herrera, who is planning on serving overseas after graduation. “If it means safety of the troops, it’s most definitely positive.”

The article, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that screenings could reduce mental health issues among soldiers serving in Iraq by 78 percent.

According to the study, “The predeployment time frame can be stressful for both soldiers and commanders.”

Warner concluded that the prescreenings would help minimize “occupationally impairing mental health problems, medical evacuations from Iraq for mental health reasons and suicide ideation.”

Liberty Bell, a senior in the TCU Army ROTC program, said she had already been deployed twice. As she was preparing to leave for Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2008, Bell was subjected to similar psychiatric screening.

“That’s standard procedure to ensure that they’re ready for combat,” she said. “It’s really the person; are they willing to answer the questions truthfully?”

Bell said that similar types of mental health testing would be unnecessary at the student level and that ROTC did not require such intensive screening.

“We’re not doing anything related to combat. We’re not doing anything that’s going to hurt someone’s mental state,” Bell said. “The mental pressure comes with just balancing the demands of ROTC with…academics.”

Major Joel Coleman, a training officer for TCU’s Army ROTC program, has also been deployed numerous times, beginning in 1989.

“I think it’s a good thing that our military is doing things to communicate with soldiers,” he said. “Studies have shown that a lot of soldiers…have gone overseas and experienced things overseas and they’ve had difficulty when [they’re] returning back and dealing with that.

Coleman said the mental health screenings might be a good way to “find out if there’s any tendencies that might lead someone to have more problems after combat and in doing so, they could help them out.”