More People in Military Report Job Stress
WASHINGTON (AP) - Stressed out and afraid to get help. That's the admitted state of mind of many U.S. troops, and Pentagon officials say they intend to look harder to find the reasons.
In a survey conducted for the Pentagon of troops stationed at home and around the world, 32 percent reported feeling "a lot" of work-related stress. Almost half said they believed their careers would probably or definitely be damaged if they sought mental health counseling.
The survey, whose results were released Monday, also found that cigarette smoking and heavy drinking are on the rise in the military. Use of illicit drugs is holding steady, however, far below the rate for civilians.
"A sizable group experienced problems in the areas of stress and mental health, which suggests the need for more attention to these issues," a summary of the survey results said. It recommended focusing on better understanding what puts people at higher risk of mental health problems.
Dr. William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the high level of stress is "not entirely surprising" given the military is fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan while remaining involved in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.
"Not all stress is bad," he told a Pentagon news conference.
The survey results, however, said people who reported high levels of stress were more likely than those with lower levels of stress to say their work performance suffered as a result. Also, injuries, illness and workplace accidents were twice as common among high-stressed troops.
The results released Monday are from a survey conducted in fall 2002, just before tens of thousands of troops were deployed to the Persian Gulf in preparation for the invasion of Iraq.
Winkenwerder said there is no survey data available yet to measure mental health conditions among the 120,000 or so American soldiers who spent the past 12 months at war in Iraq.
The Army has studied suicides, which rose sharply in Iraq last July as the toll on American troops rose from the insurgency; suicides later fell to levels similar to peacetime averages. Many suicides, the Army found, were associated with failures of personal relationships and financial problems.
Of the 12,756 troops who responded to the Pentagon's 2002 survey, 32 percent said they felt a lot of stress in their military duties and an additional 30 percent said they felt some stress.
The most frequently cited sources of stress for men were deployment (18.9 percent) and separation from family (18.7 percent); women cited changes in personal life (21.4 percent), separation from family (21.2 percent) and deployment (19.6 percent). Injuries, illness and workplace accidents were twice as common among those who described themselves as stressed.
The survey found that 5 percent of all who participated said they had considered suicide or self-injury within the year prior to the survey, and it found that heavy users of alcohol had more problems with workplace stress than abstainers, by a margin of 40 percent to 30 percent.
In specific findings:
_The share of military members categorized as heavy drinkers (having five or more drinks on a single occasion at least once a week) rose to 18.1 percent from 15.4 percent in the previous survey in 1998. When the survey was first done in 1980 that figure was about 21 percent.
_Cigarette smoking rose from 30 percent in the 1998 survey to 34 percent in the latest survey. This was the first increase recorded in the seven times military members have been questioned on this since 1980. In that first survey 51 percent were smokers. In the civilian U.S. population, about 31 percent are smokers today, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.
_The percentage who reported use of illicit drugs was 3.4 percent, up from 2.7 percent in 1998 but not a statistically significant change, according to Robert M. Bray of RTI International, which conducted the survey under contract to the Pentagon. He said the 3.4 percent for the military compares with about 12 percent for the civilian population of the United States.