Psychological Effects the Iraqi War Has on the Front Line Troops Term Paper

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Psychological Effects the Iraqi War Has on the Front Line Troops

Stress as a result of warfare and combat situations is an element that has been increasingly realized as a contributing factor in mental illness and serious psychological disorders. This is particularly the case with regard to troops in the frontline who are impacted more seriously. The Iraq war has highlighted the negative affects of combat stress and tension in a number of studies of returning and active duty troops.

Research show that, conservatively, about thirty percent of troops returning from Iraq have to deal with PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder, among other psychological disorders. One of the aspects that are mentioned as a contributing factor to the high levels of stress in this war is the particular nature of the conflict. As one commentator notes; "This war has no front line, the enemy is impossible to identify, the dangers are everywhere. There is no safe place." (Hare) the stressful nature of the combat situation where danger and threat are continuous has led clinical psychologists to state that, "Nobody comes back unaffected." (Hare)

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An indication of the psychological impact of the war can be deduced from numerous reports. A report by the U.S.A. Today newspaper found that, "... more than a quarter of returning soldiers, which is about 50,000 per year, had problems ranging from classic battle wounds to depression and suicidal thoughts." (Casualties of war) There are also indications that the war in Iraq could lead to further and more long-term psychological problems. The National Centre for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) has stated that the Iraq war is "...likely to produce a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems." (Casualties of war) in the light of these studies and others there has been an increase in research on the short- and long-term psychological implications of the Iraq war on soldiers.

2. PTSD and other psychological issues

Term Paper on Psychological Effects the Iraqi War Has on the Front Line Troops Assignment

The degree to which soldiers experience psychological problems is dependent of two central factors: namely the pre-existing psychological disposition of the soldier and the extent of the trauma that he or she has been exposed to. (Hare) Taking these two factors into account, the degree of post - traumatic stress in soldiers in Iraq has been estimated as being relatively high. In one academic study the degree of post - traumatic stress for soldiers in service in Iraq as estimated at eighteen percent. (Hare) This is a figure which is considered to be extremely high by the NCPTSD. A reason given for this high incidence of post - traumatic stress is the guerilla - war nature of the conflict; which means that in effect, "... there is no safe place. Adding to this stress, there is the constant anxiety of making a mistake and killing innocent civilians." (Casualties of war)

Studies in general have found that that few soldiers returning for Iraq are psychologically unaffected.

Almost all (94 per cent) reported coming under fire, while 77 per cent said they had shot at the enemy. Almost half (48 per cent) reported being responsible for the death of an enemy combatant, and, probably most upsetting of all, 28 per cent said they had been responsible for the death of a non-combatant. (Casualties of war)

The most comprehensive psychological study of Iraq war veterans which was completed in 2004 found that approximately 18% of servicemen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. (Finer) PTSD is recognized as a "...constellation of physical and psychological symptoms first diagnosed among soldiers who served in Vietnam." (Finer) However post - traumatic stress disorder has received increased attention as a result of the high incidence of PTSD in returning servicemen and women for Iraq; making it the main psychological disorder recognized as result of the conflict in Iraq.

A basic definition of PTSD is a mental health issue among many different cross-sections of society." (Martz, Birks & Blackwell 56)

This condition is generally characterized by "... An individual's exposure to one or more events that involve death, threat to life or limb, or serious injury and a cluster of psychological responses to the memories of those events, consisting of intrusive, avoidant, and hyperarousal symptoms." (Martz, Birks & Blackwell 56) PTSD therefore has been found to be highly represented in Iraq veterans and has also been linked to other psychiatric disorders such as depression as well as substance abuse and suicide.

As noted at the start of this section, the degree of psychological stress is also dependent on the personality type and predisposition to stress. This also forms an important part of the definition and understanding of PTSD. A wider ranging view of this disorder places emphasis on certain personality types as determining criteria in the definition of PTSD.

Exposure to extremely traumatic events -- including situations where one witnesses death or serious injury to somebody else, or where someone is in fear for their own life -- is actually fairly common. Many people get through these events without many residual effects. But some people who have such an experience later go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. They can either develop it immediately after the event, or in some cases they may develop it months or years after the event occurred. (Haran)

It is also important to note that PTSD is a fairly recently recognized disorder that affects troops in action. Previously the symptoms of PTSD were only recognized in vague terms such as 'shell shock' and battle fatigue. It was generally believed that stress from conflict would be naturally dealt with when the troops returned and integrated into civilian life. "Military psychiatrists have always recognized that horrific events could trigger acute stress symptoms in previously well-adjusted individuals....but most doctors believed these reactions subsided soon after the soldier left the battlefield." (Mcnally, 2003) There has also been a stigma attached to symptoms of trauma from conflict and this conditions has, until fairly recently, been equated with weakness. "...psychiatric malfunctioning reflects individual weakness or premorbid conditions; or poor leadership and weak unit cohesion were at fault." (Williams and Sommer, 1994, p.179)

There was therefore no clear definition or category that seriously identified the negative impact of stress during warfare. The official medical recognition and categorization of Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder was first introduced with the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). This has resulted in the more accurate and in-depth recognition and assessment of this disorder. It is now seen as a formal disorder and "... critical issues such as predictors of failure to recover from a trauma and the development and evaluation of effective treatments have just begun to be addressed in research using rigorous methodology." (Foa & Meadows 449)

Furthermore this disorder is seen as a serious psychological event and "...a catastrophic stressor... outside the range of usual human experience." (Friedman M.J.)

PTSD is therefore seen "...to be clearly different from the very painful stressors that constitute the normal vicissitudes of life such as divorce, failure, rejection, serious illness, financial reverses, and the like." (Friedman M.J.)

There has subsequently been a marked increase report of Iraq veterans with PTSD in recent years.

Figure 1. Rise in the diagnoses if PTSD

Source: Washington Post: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/26/AR2005122600792.html)

Importantly PTSD is also seen as having seriously debilitating and often long-term consequences for the individual sufferer. A significant finding is that soldiers who prior to combat duty in Iraq were considered to have a high tolerance to stress and trauma have been found to have increased levels of stress and symptoms of PTSD after exposure to combat. It was found that there was a definite correlation between trauma and psychological disorders and high levels of exposure to combat.

In general, the more traumatic combat events the soldier was exposed to, the higher his probable score on the Trauma Scale or the Global General Severity Index of the Brief Symptom Inventory." (Marlowe 150)

Among the events that have been identified as cause of high stress and trauma for active troops are; "... loss of a unit member, exposure to American dead and wounded, perception that one's own life was in imminent danger, exposure to incoming artillery fire, exposure to mines/booby traps, and exposure to enemy and civilian dead." (Marlowe 150)

One of the areas of growing research is the increased concern about the psychological consequences of PTSD after the soldier returns to civilian life. The added comorbid symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, are often exacerbated after active duty and can be bring about further psychosocial complications. The point is made in many studies that spousal and other relationships are often disrupted by long periods of service, which tends to exacerbate the psychological implications of exposure to combat stress. Added to this is the "...aimlessness after returning home,... Almost 20 per cent of Iraq war veterans had trouble finding interest or pleasure in everyday pursuits, 14 per cent had feelings of depression or hopelessness, while 9 per cent had an experience that gave them nightmares."… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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