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INCREASING EUROPEAN COLLABORATION IN PTSD RESEARCH

6 April 2018

On 6 March 2018 the WVF Health and Welfare Division was represented at the conference hosted by EUROMIL at the European Parliament in Brussels entitled “Increasing European Collaboration in PTSD Research” by Dr. Dominic Murphy of the UK association Combat Stress.  

The European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL) is the voice of European soldiers on an international level. Its core mission is to promote the professional and social interests as well as the fundamental rights and freedoms of European soldiers.

The Conference was held in the context of an upcoming Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) meeting to discuss the Defence Meeting European Health Research agenda.  17 health projects have been suggested, with PTSD in veterans and in those still serving raised as a priority issue.

Discussions took place concerning Ukraine and the impact of mental health difficulties in veterans of this ongoing conflict.

This was followed by three presentations, some highlights of which are given below:


Professor Fear, King's College London

PTSD prevalence rates currently stand at 6% across the UK military, with higher rates  recorded  in individuals in combat roles, such as those who deployed to Afghanistan. Higher rates are also found in veterans. 

PTSD prevalence rates higher than 3% percent have also been quoted in other European military populations.  Factors that protect against PTSD include - unit cohesion, morale, good leadership and good family support, all of which are found to result in a reduction of PTSD rates.

PTSD has been found to be most commonly Co-morbid with other mental health problems, such as alcohol dependency, depression and anger. 

Issues have been identified relating to help-seeking for PTSD problems. These include lack of awareness of the problem or lack of mental health awareness in general, lack of awareness of available services and  a need for support from significant others in order to seek help . Sadly help-seeking often results from a crisis.

Dr Anderson, Danish Veterans Centre established 2011.  

 

The Danish Veterans Centre operates within the Danish public health care system and it is supported by third sector charities.  It offers services over & above the norm if mental health problems are linked to deployment. It provides one point of entry for veterans and their relatives and offers life-long support from Psychologists and Social Workers. It also permits monitoring of treatment outcomes. 

 

10,000 Danish Soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan. Higher rates of PTSD were found in deployed soldiers compared to non-deployed soldiers (10% compared to 5%). Evidence was  also found to show that rates increase as time goes by since the end of deployment (10% two years after deployment, rising to 14% six years after deployment). Data suggests only 60% of veterans respond to current gold standard treatments (e.g. Trauma Focused –Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). 

The Danish military have started to pilot ‘Mental Health Resilience Training’ pre-deployment to help protect soldiers.

Prof Eric Vermatten, Dutch Ministry of Defence.

 

Higher rates of PTSD were also reported in deployed Dutch troops compared to non-deployed troops.  11% reported PTSD five years after deployment.  This may be evidence of delayed onset presentations. It was also reported that veterans five years post-deployment do not seem to respond well to gold-standard exposure based treatments, in particular, individuals with shame & guilt based traumas.  Moral Injury may provide a new way of understanding these complex presentations.

The Dutch are piloting ‘Battle Field Ethics’ training pre-deployment to prospectively support soldiers and also 'Road to Mental Readiness' Training - adapted from Canadian Defence Mental Health Services to provide support prior to deployment.

Prof Vermatten discussed the need to develop better psychiatric medications for PTSD.

In their concluding remarks, Ivo Belet and Clare Moody thanked the speakers for the diverse and important insight they shared and emphasized their perception that there is a lot to be learned from each other – European collaboration is imperative.

The President of EUROMIL, Emmanuel Jacob, concluded that while all the national situations discussed at the meeting can be regarded as “best practices” there are still European countries where less care is available for military personnel. He emphasized that military personnel deployed in the same mission with the same tasks might face dramatically different circumstances with regard to social and medical support when returning to their respective countries. He thus invited the Members of the European Parliament to use the knowledge gained at the event for their work in the parliament and urged them not to lose the social and human dimension when discussing European security and defence policy: “EUROMIL stands ready to support efforts of the European Parliament to place the men and women serving in uniform at the centre of a European security and defence policy. This event was a starting point to place the social dimension, including military mental health, high on the European agenda!”

You can find more information about this meeting at: http://euromil.org/increasing-european-collaboration-ptsd-research/

Dr.Murphy

Dr. Dominic Murphy