Scientists baffled to find PTSD returning to haunt veterans years after they return

According to a Dutch study, soldiers deployed in Afghanistan experienced a spike in their PSTD (Post traumatic stress disorder) symptoms immediately upon their return and also 5 years down under. The results from the study thus suggest that screening for symptoms of PSTD should continue beyond just a couple of years after the soldiers have returned home since new or recurring instances of PSTD could emerge, say the authors of the study.

Iris Eekhout from VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the lead author of the study stated that the objective of the study was to get more insight into the changes in PSTD complaints over a longer time frame post deployment.  The ultimate objective of the study was to evaluate the timing of increase in demand for post treatment deployment.

About 11 to 20% veterans from the Iraq conflict suffer from PSTD every year in the US, says the Department of Veteran Affairs. The symptoms could also include flashbacks or nightmares, feeling of fear, traumatizing events, shame or guilt or trouble with concentration and being hyper alert.

While several studies examined short-term mental health of veterans, focus on long-term developments was less – says Eekhout.

Eekhout along with her colleagues analyzed data from 1,007 Dutch soldiers who were deployed in Afghanistan between 2005 March and 2008 September. Most of these soldiers were never deployed before.  The study participants were initially assessed about a month prior to their leaving for an average of 4 months of deployment.  The soldiers also filled out questionnaires after one month, six months, one year, two years and five years after they returned home.

Compared to the overall level before deployment, the average level of PSTD symptoms spiked during the 6 months immediately following the return of the soldiers.  However, at the end of an year after return, the symptoms showed signs of dropping back to levels before deployment.  But, 5 years later, there was a return of the symptoms which was more pronounced than the earlier instances.

Another result from the study was the observation that younger soldiers below 21 years of age at the time of deployment had higher chances of a spike in PSTD symptoms compared to older soldiers both in the 1 year and 5-year time frames. Significantly higher PSTD symptoms were also noticed in soldiers assigned combat duties outside their base at the end of 1 year and 5 years compared to soldiers who were only assigned to duties in their military base.