Combat's Effects on Relief Workers Studied

Peacekeepers and relief workers exposed to combat were more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD, the researchers reported.

A study published in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that, despite similar traumatic exposures, war zone peacekeepers and relief workers do not show the same mental health effects as combat veterans. The journal is the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The researchers used data from a nationwide mental health survey to analyze psychiatric symptoms among 272 U.S. adults who reported working in a war zone as a combat soldier, peacekeeper, and/or relief worker. Some subjects reported both combat and peacekeeping experience. Ellen Connorton (econnort@hsph.harvard.edu), ScD, MSW, MPA, of the Harvard School of Public Health, was lead researcher. The paper is titled "Occupational trauma and mental illness — combat, peacekeeping, or relief work and the National Co-Morbidity Survey Replication."

The subjects exposed to combat were more likely to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; there was no evidence of increased mental health problems among those exposed to peacekeeping or relief work without combat exposure. "PTSD from combat seems to occur quickly, while most of the effects of combat exposure on drug and alcohol dependence are delayed," they concluded. The paper notes some subjects were diagnosed with depression or other psychiatric disorders prior to being exposed to combat and/or peacekeeping/relief work.

ACOEM said some studies have suggested a higher PTSD risk among war zone peacekeepers, but few studies have looked at possible mental health impacts of relief work.

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