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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Homecoming stress of TA soldiers
Stressed man
Reservists suffer more post-traumatic stress and anxiety
Why do reservists serving in Iraq suffer double the levels of mental health problems of their regular comrades, as a government-commissioned report indicates?

Returning from a combat zone to civilian life can be a daunting experience for reservists, not least because it is difficult to share their experience with family and friends.

Professor Matthew Hotopf, who led the King's College study, said employers might be "pretty fed up" with them and partners and spouses too, might be less than sympathetic.

He said: "Veterans tend to say, 'People don't understand what we've been through,' - that's a very common kind of experience post-deployment and I think that applies much more to reservists than to regulars."

I developed quite bad post-traumatic stress and that wasn't actually diagnosed...until 12 to 14 months after the event
Scott Garthley, former reservist
Reservists experienced double the regular rate of problems such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, said Prof Hotopf.

This can be exacerbated by this lack of understanding from those they left behind.

He thought it could also be because of the context of their deployment rather than anything that happened while they were in Iraq.

He said: "The way reservists deploy is very different. If you are a regular, you are with your own unit, you are a professional soldier or other service personnel, whereas for the reservists it's a different story.

"You're in a civilian job, you've got your family at home who may not understand the role you're going to take up.

British troops in Iraq
Reservists fight side by side with regular troops in Iraq
"You may deploy in a way in which you don't know necessarily what's going to happen, you don't know the folks who are out there very well. Most people told us that they felt accepted but that wasn't always the story.

"And then they come back and they've had this extraordinary situation of being deployed and it's difficult to adapt."

Another problem is that while they are on deployment reservists have access to the same mental health support services as other soldiers, but once they return home they leave the care of the specialist Defence Medical Services and are looked after by the NHS.

Commodore Toby Elliot from Combat Stress - a charity set up to help ex-servicemen deal with mental health problems - said this puts many reservists in a difficult position.

He told BBC News: "Even if they seek help with the NHS they find they're not being understood.

There is no doubt that going into an operational conflict is a stressful experience for anyone
Surgeon Commodore Lionel Jarvis
"It's very important that as soon as a soldier feels he's having some form of psychological problem and seeks help, he is actually helped by someone who understands what this is all about.

"That's the best chance of getting better. If he doesn't get that help then he'll end up on our books, severely traumatised, his condition chronic, and it's extremely difficult to get him back on the road to recovery."

Former reservist Scott Garthley was injured while on duty in Iraq with 3 Military Intelligence Battalion.

He told BBC News he was not given fast enough access to medical help and felt "badly treated" by the Ministry of Defence on two fronts - physically, with possible delays in operations being carried out, and psychologically.

"I developed quite bad post-traumatic stress and that wasn't actually diagnosed and treatment started until 12 to 14 months after the event," he said.

Services extended

He went on: "If we're doing the same job you would expect the same support and in fact given the differences - ie that we go back to civilian employment - I would actually expect that some of that actually needs to be more thorough."

Surgeon Commodore Lionel Jarvis, director of medical policy for the Defence Medical Services (DMS), said reservists had less peer support than regulars.

He said: "There is no doubt that going into an operational conflict is a stressful experience for anyone, emotionally and sometimes physically.

"For those reserves who come out of a civilian occupation into a fairly challenging operational environment and then return to an environment where their friends and colleagues and workmates are, are not able to share their experiences."

DMS is now planning to extend its mental health services to returning reservists.

More medical aid for reservists
16 May 06 |  Health


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