Mental Ailments Hit Armed Forces Personnel Hard

September 20, 2002 ( - Members or the US armed forces most frequently suffer from mental ailments such as depression and substance abuse, presenting one of the nation's largest employers with a unique challenge, according to new research.

Not only that, but a study by military researchers found that active-duty armed forces members during the 1990s were much more likely to leave the service altogether after mental health treatment than when they were physically ill, a Reuters story reported.

According to the study directed by Dr. Charles Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, mental conditions had become the second leading cause for hospitalization by 1995 as well as the fifth-leading cause of outpatient clinic visits in 1998-1999.

Hoge’s group examined hospital visits for all military personnel between 1990 and 1999 and 1998 and 1999 outpatient clinic visits.

Patients’ specific ailments included (in order)

  • alcohol- and drug-related disorders
  • mood disorders such as major and mild depression
  • a group of conditions known as adjustment disorders. Adjustment disorders involve an inability to deal with stressful events that is severe enough to get in the way of work and life.

Home “Run”

Overall, the researchers found, mental health problems appeared much more likely than physical ills to affect service members’ ability to stay on the job. For example, nearly half of soldiers hospitalized for a mental disorder in 1996 left the service within six months. That compares with 12% of those hospitalized for physical conditions.

Studying the military, Hoge’s team notes, provides a “unique opportunity” because it is one of the healthiest US populations, is ethnically diverse and has equal access to healthcare.

The fact that mental disorders have such an impact in the military, they conclude, provides new evidence that mental illness is “common, disabling, and costly to society.”