Influence of military component and deployment-related experiences on mental disorders among Canadian military personnel who deployed to Afghanistan: a cross-sectional survey – 2018

Objective The primary objective was to explore differences in mental health problems (MHP) between serving Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) components (Regular Force (RegF); Reserve Force (ResF)) with an Afghanistan deployment and to assess the contribution of both component and deployment experiences to MHP using covariate-adjusted prevalence difference estimates. Additionally, mental health services use (MHSU) was descriptively assessed among those with a mental disorder.

Design Data came from the 2013 CAF Mental Health Survey, a cross-sectional survey of serving personnel (n=72 629). Analyses were limited to those with an Afghanistan deployment (population n=35 311; sampled n=4854). Logistic regression compared MHP between RegF and ResF members. Covariate-adjusted prevalence differences were computed.

Primary outcome measure The primary outcomes were MHP, past-year mental disorders, identified using the WHO’s Composite International Diagnostic Interview, and past-year suicide ideation.

Results ResF personnel were less likely to be identified with a past-year anxiety disorder (adjusted OR (AOR)=0.72 (95% CI 0.58 to 0.90)), specifically both generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder, but more likely to be identified with a past-year alcohol abuse disorder (AOR=1.63 (95% CI 1.04 to 2.58)). The magnitude of the covariate-adjusted disorder prevalence differences for component was highest for the any anxiety disorder outcome, 2.8% (95% CI 1.0 to 4.6); lower for ResF. All but one deployment-related experience variable had some association with MHP. The ‘ever felt responsible for the death of a Canadian or ally personnel’ experience had the strongest association with MHP; its estimated covariate-adjusted disorder prevalence difference was highest for the any (of the six measured) mental disorder outcome (11.2% (95% CI 6.6 to 15.9)). Additionally, ResF reported less past-year MHSU and more past-year civilian MHSU.

Conclusions Past-year MHP differences were identified between components. Our findings suggest that although deployment-related experiences were highly associated with MHP, these only partially accounted for MHP differences between components. Additional research is needed to further investigate MHSU differences between components.

David Boulos, Deniz Fikretoglu
BMJ Open, Volume 8, Issue 3, 2018