Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Linked to Earlier Poor Health
Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are higher among military personnel who had mental or physical health problems before combat, a recent study has found.
Cynthia LeardMann and colleagues at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego wanted to see whether there are predisposing factors for PTSD. Most previous studies have used retrospective figures, so the team examined volunteers before military deployment.
They write on the website of the British Medical Journal that, “It has not been temporally established if those with poor mental or physical health status are more vulnerable to developing PTSD.”
But they do refer to one study suggesting that prior trauma and prior psychological adjustment were significant predictors of PTSD. Another study suggests that young adults, aged 20 to 23 years, with high levels of anxiety or depression in first grade were one and a half times more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event than those with low levels of anxiety and depression in first grade.
In their recent study, LeardMann and her team measured “functional health status” before and after combat exposure among 5,410 U.S. military personnel. The individuals completed medical and psychological questionnaires in 2001 to 2003 before the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and again in 2004 to 2006. The questionnaires included the PTSD checklist-civilian version (PCL-C), a 17-item self-report measure of PTSD symptoms.
New-onset PTSD was determined by either meeting the standard DSM-IV criteria or receiving a doctor’s diagnosis. Of the participants who were deployed and reported combat exposure, 395 (7.3 percent) developed PTSD.
Those who were rated in the lowest 15th percent for mental or physical health at baseline “had two to three times the risk of symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD” at the time of followup compared with the other participants.
Of the new PTSD cases, over half (58 percent) arose in participants with health scores in the lowest 15th percent. These individuals were more likely to be younger, less educated, not married, female, current smokers, or problem drinkers.