Study: Injuries may not be factor in stress disorders
June 5, 2005
WASHINGTON — Injured troops aren’t more likely to develop traumatic stress disorders than their uninjured comrades, at least in the short-term, according to a study released last week.
Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., followed the psychological recovery of 613 servicemembers after they were admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for combat injuries.
They found about 4 percent of the wounded fighters showed signs of traumatic stress initially, with about 12 percent showing lingering stress disorders six months later.
“That’s comparable to what we’ve seen in all combat troops, and we were really expecting much higher rates in the injured folks,” said Capt. Thomas Grieger, a psychiatrist at the university and lead researcher on the study. “Part of it may be the care they’re receiving. Or it may not have developed and impacted their lives yet.”
And of the patients who had symptoms of depression or stress disorders after six months, nearly four-fifths showed no problems in their initial assessment.
“We saw quite a few who had resolved their issues after three months, and a whole new group of people with new problems who didn’t show anything initially,” Grieger said.
Mark Lerner, president of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, said previous research has shown physical injuries do create opportunities for more stress-related problems.
“If you’re not physically injured, you’re not necessarily being reminded of the trauma every day,” he said. “It’s not like having to step on a treadmill and see that you’re missing a limb.”
Lerner said some stress disorders can take months or years to manifest. He thinks still not enough is being done to eliminate stigmas surrounding stress disorders and educate military personnel about the issues before they suffer trauma.
“These reactions are a normal response to traumatic events,” he said. “[Those affected] should be in pain, and they should be suffering. If they had no reaction, we’d be more concerned with that.”
Defense Department officials announced in January plans to require additional counseling for troops returning from combat zones, including a mandatory assessment by psychiatrists three to five months after returning from deployment. Those will begin later this year.
The study only tracked the wounded troops for six months because of difficulties keeping in touch with the patients as they went into rehabilitation programs or left the medical center, Grieger said.
Grieger admits that the short time frame limits how much experts can draw from the results.
Last year, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed between 15 percent and 17 percent of infantry soldiers surveyed in Iraq suffered traumatic stress disorders, higher than the about 11 percent seen in soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is the military health system’s center for medical education and research.