Soldier Blue

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AS troops return from the distressing events in Iraq, should the government, and the military, prepare for the possible psychological consequences of their mission and provide adequate debriefing?

A timely study, from King's College Hospital, asked British military personnel who had served on peacekeeping missions for their views on talking about their experiences, and whether they believed there was a need for psychological debriefing sessions on their return. They also completed the General Health Questionnaire and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist.

It appeared that the troops did agree with talking about their experiences, with over 63 per cent saying they had discussed their missions. Furthermore, talking about experiences was associated with lower distress levels.

This discussion was more likely to take place within existing social networks, for instance with peers, spouses and partners. Only a small number of personnel sought formal support, possibly owing to the stigma of receiving psychological help that tends to exist in the military. However, there was a strong association between high distress and seeking professional support.

Age also appeared to affect views - fewer of the older participants believed that formal debriefing was necessary, again possibly a result of the 'stiff-upper-lip' philosophy. While older personnel were more likely to turn to peers and military colleagues, younger personnel were willing to consider psychological debriefing.

Finally, men were seen to talk with their wife or partner, while women were more inclined to discuss their experiences with other members of their family.

The study would clearly benefit from further specific research and development. But what implications can these findings have for the current troops? The clear message is that personnel do want to discuss their experiences. The authors call for an acceptance that formal debriefing would be beneficial for some, if not all, and suggest promoting community and family networks in the military to maintain this vital form of support

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