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    Combat stress

    Is Combat Stress Bad for Your Country?

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    Too much talk about the mental health of returning combat soldiers could damage army recruitment in Britain, a retired military psychiatrist has warned.

    Professor Ian Palmer says the narrative in Britain associating combat roles with a legacy of mental health problems could be another reason for potential soldiers not to sign up.

    "It's damaging to the image of the army to put too much emphasis on PTSD. Relating every soldier's mental health problems to their service is likely to interfere with the recruitment of army personnel", says Professor Ian Palmer who served with the British Army for 25 years.

    "There's always the risk you'll get bombed or killed, but also entering the discussion is the heightened awareness that some soldiers will develop mental disorders and now that's being talked about, it's likely that the advice to someone thinking of joining up will be ‘don't do it son'."

    Battle hardened

    Palmer believes that misconceptions about the mental health of soldiers could also damage the reputation of the UK armed forces:

    "It's not good for any nation, or how other nations perceive solders if you go around saying that every solder's mental health disorder is related to their military service. I once read in a newspaper that ISIL soldiers, lads from parts of England who have gone to fight in the Middle East return as ‘battle hardened warriors', whereas British soldiers who fought in all sorts of wars are described as returning mentally scarred.

    "That's not true: we do have battled hardened worriers, as does every nation".

    Vietnam War syndrome

    Professor Palmer works with the charity, Veterans Aid which looks after homeless veterans in London. He believes that the stigma attached to combat soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) developed after the Vietnam War in 1975.

    "Soldiers were perpetrators of atrocities, and did terrible things, and were damaged by being sent to Vietnam. The whole dynamic changed and fitted in with the view that exposure to unpleasant events is invariably bad for people and leads them to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

    Professor Palmer says this has fed into society's rhetoric associating combat service with mental disorders. "A minority of people develop PTSD or a mental health disorder following exposure to traumatic events but it feeds into various societies' views on mental health which has a lot of stigma attached to it".

    Research published by the King's Centre for Military Health found that British troops who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan experience relatively the same rate of mental disorders and post-traumatic stress as civilians. 

    However the study does suggest that soldiers deployed in combat roles are more likely to develop PTSD than soldiers deployed in non-combative roles.  

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