The authors assessed the effectiveness of a systematic method of predeployment mental health screening to determine whether screening decreased negative outcomes during deployment in Iraq's combat setting.
Primary care providers performed directed mental health screenings during standard predeployment medical screening. If indicated, on-site mental health providers assessed occupational functioning with unit leaders and coordinated in-theater care for those cleared for deployment. Mental health-related clinical encounters and evacuations during the first 6 months of deployment in 2007 were compared for 10,678 soldiers from three screened combat brigades and 10,353 soldiers from three comparable unscreened combat brigades.
Of 10,678 soldiers screened, 819 (7.7%, 95% confidence interval [CI]=7.2—8.2) received further mental health evaluation; of these, 74 (9.0%, 95% CI=7.1—11.0) were not cleared to deploy and 96 (11.7%, 95% CI=9.5—13.9) were deployed with additional requirements. After 6 months, soldiers in screened brigades had significantly lower rates of clinical contacts than did those in unscreened brigades for suicidal ideation (0.4%, 95% CI=0.3—0.5, compared with 0.9%, 95% CI=0.7—1.1), for combat stress (15.7%, 95% CI=15.0—16.4, compared with 22.0%, 95% CI=21.2—22.8), and for psychiatric disorders (2.9%, 95% CI=2.6—3.2, compared with 13.2%, 95% CI=12.5—13.8), as well as lower rates of occupational impairment (0.6%, 95% CI=0.4—0.7, compared with 1.8%, 95% CI=1.5—2.1) and air evacuation for behavioral health reasons (0.1%, 95% CI=0.1—0.2, compared with 0.3%, 95% CI=0.2—0.4).
Predeployment mental health screening was associated with significant reductions in occupationally impairing mental health problems, medical evacuations from Iraq for mental health reasons, and suicidal ideation. This predeployment screening process provides a feasible system for screening soldiers and coordinating mental health support during deployment.