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Depression is a leading cause of healthcare use and risk for suicide among US military personnel. Depression is not well characterised over the shipboard deployment cycle, and personnel undergo less screening than with land-based deployments, making early identification less likely.
To determine the demographic and behavioural risk factors associated with screening positive for risk of depression (ROD) across the shipboard deployment cycle.
Active-duty ship assigned personnel completed an anonymous assessment using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) in the year prior to deployment, during deployment and in the months following deployment. Longitudinal models were used to determine risk factors.
In total, 598 people were included in the analysis. Over 50% of the study population screened positive for ROD (CES-D score ≥16) and over 25% screened positive for risk of major depressive disorder (CES-D score ≥22) at all time points. Lower age, female gender, alcohol use, stress and prior mental health diagnoses were all associated with greater odds of screening positive for ROD in multivariable models.
Although the risk factors associated with screening positive for ROD are similar to those in other military and civilian populations, the proportion screening positive exceeds previously reported prevalence. This suggests that shipboard deployment or factors associated with shipboard deployment may present particular stressors or increase the likelihood of depressive symptoms.
Declaration of interest
The authors are military service members (or employees of the US Government). This work was prepared as part of the authors' official duties. Title 17, U.S.C. §105 provides the ‘Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.’ Title 17, USC, §101 defines a US Government work as work prepared by a military service member or employee of the US Government as part of that person's official duties. The views expressed in this research are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, or the US Government. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited. Material has been reviewed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. There is no objection to its presentation and/or publication. The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors, and are not to be construed as official, or as reflecting true views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.
Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are significant risks for suicide and other adverse events among US military personnel, but prevalence data among ship-assigned personnel at the onset of deployment are unknown.
To determine the prevalence of shipboard personnel who screen positive for PTSD and/or major depressive disorder (MDD) at the onset of deployment, and also those who reported these diagnoses made by a physician or healthcare professional in the year prior to deployment.
Active-duty ship-assigned personnel (N = 2078) completed anonymous assessments at the beginning of deployment. Depression was measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; score of ≥22), and PTSD was assessed using the PTSD Checklist–Civilian Version (PCL-C; both score and symptom criteria were used).
In total, 7.3% (n = 151 of 2076) screened positive for PTSD and 22% (n = 461 of 2078) for MDD at deployment onset. Only 6% and 15% of those who screened positive for PTSD or MDD, respectively, had been diagnosed by a healthcare professional in the past year.
Missed opportunities for mental healthcare among screen-positive shipboard personnel reduce the benefits associated with early identification and linkage to care. Improved methods of mental health screening that promote early recognition and referral to care may mitigate psychiatric events in theatre.
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