Previous studies in both the UK and US have found that, compared with regular troops, reserve military personnel had more mental health issues -- including more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -- after returning home from operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The latest research at King's College London suggests that difficulty readjusting to civilian life may account for some of that extra risk.
The study showed that reservists were more likely to feel that people at home did not understand what they had been through, less likely to feel supported by the military and have more difficulty resuming normal social activities.
The Daily Mail (19 Aug 2011) reported that:
British Army reserves returning from Afghanistan are more likely to suffer mental health problems than full-time troops because they struggle more to readjust to civilian life.
Many Territorial Army soldiers found the transition from military life to be 'challenging' - putting them at greater risk of developing serious psychological problems linked to the battlefield.
Reservists were more likely to feel people at home did not understand what they had been through overseas, less likely to feel supported by the military and have more difficulty resuming normal social activities, according to the latest research.
Those left feeling unsupported after leaving their regiments were most vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression or alcohol abuse.
The study of 5,000 UK troops who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq was carried out by academics from King's College London.
The research comes as Defence Secretary Liam Fox introduces controversial proposals to cull the size of the regular Army from 102,000 to 84,000 – the smallest since the Boer War – whilst maintaining a part-time fighting force of about 36,000.
The study, reported in the Annals of Epidemiology journal, found: 'Many reservists find the transition between their military and civilian lives difficult and that alternating between these two social settings and corresponding social identities often results in them feeling unsupported, misunderstood, and poorly integrated with bothsets of social networks.'
Dr Samuel Harvey, the lead researcher, said the reason for reservists' higher mental health risks were difficult to glean. He said: 'We don't think it is because reservists are having a more dangerous time in Iraq or Afghanistan.
'And while in the past, some reservists have reported feeling unaccepted and underutilised within the military, this seems to have been less of a problem recently.
'The main message from this study is that those who wish to help reservists cope with the psychological impact of deployment need to not only focus on what happens during a tour of duty, but to consider what occurs after they return home.'
Military charities have repeatedly warned that the UK is facing a 'ticking timebomb' of ex-servicemen who are suffering potentially life-changing mental disorders following intense conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ministry of Defence figures have revealed that 10 British troops a day are seeking treatment for mental health problems suffered in the line of duty.
And the problem is expected to get worse as more British soldiers fighting the Taliban in Helmand endure the daily threat of roadside bombs and many have seen friends and comrades killed and badly injured.
Troops who do not get help for mental illnesses often face problems including homelessness, social exclusion, mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse and fall into crime.
It typically takes 14 years for veterans to seek help once they have left the Armed Forces.
Stephen Clark, a spokesman for military charity Combat Stress, said: 'Men and women who serve in the reserve forces live different lives to their regular colleagues – they spend less time among their peers in the Forces and have to switch between the military and civilian community quickly and regularly.'
The Ministry of Defence said it was putting in place a number of initiatives to tackle the problem including doubling the number of therapists trained to treat veterans, setting up a 24-hour support line and teaching GPs to better understand the needs of the military.
- Source article, by Daily Mail Reporter - TA soldiers at greater risk of mental health problems and alcohol abuse on their return to the UK
- Reuters - After tour, Reservists' mental health may suffer
- King's College London - Poor homecoming impacts Reservists' mental health - includes details of full paper - Social Functioning and the Mental Health of UK Reservists on Return From Deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan