First study on war-related mental health disorders among Iraqis ten years after the Gulf War



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A team of researchers from Wayne State University, in collaboration with Basrah Medical College in Basrah, Iraq, released a study published in The New Iraqi Journal of Medicine today on war-related mental health disorders among Iraqis ten years after the Gulf War.

Bengt B. Arnetz, Ph.D., professor of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University led the team of researchers to conduct a mental health study among Iraqi soldiers and civilians who are still residing in Iraq that were exposed to sustained socio-environmental stress since the Gulf War. Prior studies have been confined to Allied forces that have had a number of important confounding factors including deployed soldiers who were not accustomed to the Gulf War’s geographical, ethnic, cultural and microbial characteristics, as well as the desert climate.

Following the Gulf War, veterans were returning to their native countries with increased mental and somatic symptoms, similarly being reported by soldiers deployed in recent conflicts. Previous studies have noted that the Gulf War appears to have resulted in a higher prevalence of medical symptoms with a longer duration, although no consensus as to the underlying reason for elevated psychological symptoms exists.

The researchers aimed to determine whether mental health disorders differ between Iraqi soldiers deployed during the Gulf War as compared to Iraqi civilians. It also studied whether soldiers deployed closer to the war epicenter exhibited more mental health disorders as compared to soldiers deployed further away.

The study concludes that Iraqi soldiers that took part in the Gulf War face many of the same mental health disorders that plague Allied soldiers, and exhibited significantly more mental disorders than civilians. Those soldiers closest to Kuwait were at a higher risk which suggests a link to war-specific environmental exposures such as oil well smoke and aerial bombings which were more frequent in this area, although self-reported trauma exposure was higher in the southwest of Iraq. In addition, the study points out that sustained socio-environmental stress originating from the Iraqi war and subsequent hardships such as oppression, unemployment and lack of food are significant contributors. Factors such as climate, culture and microbial characteristics, many of the confounders from prior studies of Allied Gulf War veterans were not factors, as participants were acclimated to these conditions.

“This is the first large controlled study of the mental health of Iraqi soldiers and civilians that remained in Iraq under severe socio-environmental stress following the Gulf War,” said Arnetz. “This article will likely contribute to moving the field as to long-term implications of war trauma, and it will also raise special interest since it is the first of Iraqi soldiers,” he added.

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