Background: There is ample documentation that war negatively affects those soldiers who serve on the front lines. Almost all studies that are currently available, look at those returning from war months to years afterwards and most of these studies focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Data from the most current war - Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom - show that 6.6% -28% of those who have returned from deployment met criteria for further evaluation of depression and/or anxiety. In one study, 45% of veterans reported some symptoms of depression. There is very little data regarding soldiers currently stationed in a war zone and research does not expand much beyond PTSD.
Hypothesis: the premise of this study was that depression rates and stress would be higher in those who are currently stationed in areas of active combat in OIF/OEF, compared to counterparts stationed in the US and other locations. It was also hypothesized that the rates of illness and injuries would be higher, as well as alcohol and tobacco use. It was also thought that those in war zones would have riskier sexual behaviors.
Study Design: Pilot Study
Methods: This was a web based survey of 28 questions regarding demographics, illnesses, injuries, alcohol and tobacco use, sexual behavior, stress, and depression. A snowball approach was used to gather US military respondents currently stationed in areas directly involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom as well as those stationed in other ares for comparison purposes. E-mails were sent out with a link to a web based program known as Survey Monkey. An incentive of a Best Buy gift certificate was also used to gather respondents. Survey results were then entered into an excel datasheet and analyzed with the aid of the Statistix program.
Results: A small number of surveys (28) were filled out, with 5 from areas of combat and 23 stationed in the US or other areas abroad. Those who were stationed anywhere abroad had a higher incidence of reported stress compared to those stationed in the US, however; there was no difference between those in war zones compared to other areas. Comparing the amount of stress reported, those stationed in war zones showed higher stress levels in all categories except two. There was a high incidence of depression among all respondents, 60%-80% of those in combat areas and 35.7% in the US. Alcohol and tobacco use was much less in war zones and there was less sexual promiscuity as well.
Conclusion: Depression levels are very high in those actively stationed in combat areas of OIF/OEF, much higher than levels reported in other studies that looked at those who have already returned from deployment (60%-80% vs. 6.6-28%). Stress levels were higher in most categories in those stationed in combat zones, however, the total number of those reporting stress did not differ from any foreign location. those stationed in the US had much less stress. Limitations to the study were many, including small sample size attributable to accessibility to soldiers stationed in Iraq and internal military conflictions- limiting the response rate to the survey.
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