- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Army standards used to screen potential recruits are being questioned with the publication of findings by JAMA Psychiatry.

On Monday, the peer-reviewed journal revealed that roughly 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers suffered from conditions ranging from ADHD to panic disorders and depression before enlistment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

JAMA Psychiatry also noted that more than eight percent of soldiers had considered taking their own life, and over one percent had a previous suicide attempt. The information was culled from confidential surveys and interviews of 5,428 soldiers stationed at bases around the country, the Times reported.

The studies also showed that more than eight percent of soldiers entered the service while suffering from intermittent explosive disorder — six times the civilian rate.

“The question becomes, ‘How did these guys get in the Army? … The kind of people who join the Army are not typical people. … They have a lot more acting-out kind of mental disorders,” said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard University sociologist who led one of the studies, to the Times.

One of the problems the military has, says Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, a former chief psychiatrist in the Army, is that the Army must depend on the willingness of the recruits to disclose their mental health history.

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“People who want to come into the Army are no fools,” Dr. Ritchie told the Times. “They know if you say you had a past suicide attempt, you’re probably not going to get in.”

Matthew Nock, a Harvard University psychologist, told the Times that one of the steps the Army could take would be to not bar recruits with pre-existing mental health issues, but to offer them treatment upon enlistment.

The three studies examined by JAMA Psychiatry were part of a 2009 research initiative by the Army and the National Institutes of Mental Health in response to rising suicide rates within the service.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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