For U.S. Army personnel, most mental health disorders exist before enlistment

In the largest study of its kind, a team of researchers have found that the majority of mental health disorders and suicidal ideation among soldiers manifest before enlistment. The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS) calls attention to the need for improved screening and intervention for new soldiers with pre-existing mental disorders, and suggest that recruits are not always forthcoming about any history of poor mental health or suicidality.

The findings included:

  • About 58% of soldiers who had ever considered suicide had such thoughts before enlisting.
  • Among those soldiers with a current mental disorder, for about 77% the disorder existed before enlistment.   
  • Just under half of those soldiers who ever attempted suicide did so pre-enlistment

Also included in the analysis was a comparison between military and civilian populations of mental disorders. The results were dramatic. The rate of major depression was five times as high for soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder was almost 15 times as high.

The study’s findings were reported in three separate papers published in JAMA Psychiatry