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UMass Study: Severe Brain Injury In Combat Increases Risk Of Mental Illness

Soldiers in military exercises at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Marcie Casas
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/marciecasas
Soldiers in military exercises at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Umass Amherst researchers say soldiers with severe brain injuries are more likely to develop mental health disorders than previously thought.

The study looked at military records for almost 5,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Past research has shown higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among combat veterans than the general public. But the UMass study found that other mental health problems are also more likely among soldiers with traumatic brain injuries.

UMass Amherst epidemiologist David Chin said more than 70 percent of severely brain-injured soldiers were later diagnosed with conditions like anxiety, schizophrenia and depression as well as PTSD.

"We suggest we are underestimating the number of people who go on to have mental health conditions," Chin said, since researchers did not track soldiers after they left the military, 

Chin said a previous theory suggested severe head trauma made PTSD less likely, because people don't remember the event itself.

He said that in fact, the worse the injury, the more likely a diagnosis.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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