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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2019 Feb;54(2):145-156. doi: 10.1007/s00127-018-1562-6. Epub 2018 Jul 19.

Contribution of traumatic deployment experiences to the burden of mental health problems in Canadian Armed Forces personnel: exploration of population attributable fractions.

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Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Research Personnel and Family Support, Department of National Defence (Canada), 101 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1A OK2, Canada.
Research and Analysis Section, Canadian Forces Health Services Group Headquarters, 101 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0K2, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.



Mental health problems are prevalent after combat; they are also common in its absence. Estimates of deployment-attributability vary. This paper quantifies the contribution of different subtypes of occupational trauma to post-deployment mental health problems.


Participants were a cohort of 16,193 Canadian personnel undergoing post-deployment mental health screening after return from the mission in Afghanistan. The screening questionnaire assessed post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and exposure to 30 potentially traumatic deployment experiences. Logistic regression estimated adjusted population attributable fractions (PAFs) for deployment-related trauma, which was treated as count variables divided into several subtypes of experiences based on earlier factor analytic work.


The overall PAF for overall deployment-related trauma exposure was 57.5% (95% confidence interval 44.1, 67.7) for the aggregate outcome of any of the four assessed problems. Substantial PAFs were seen even at lower levels of exposure. Among subtypes of trauma, exposure to a dangerous environment (e.g., receiving small arms fire) and to the dead and injured (e.g., handling or uncovering human remains) had the largest PAFs. Active combat (e.g., calling in fire on the enemy) did not have a significant PAF.


Military deployments involving exposure to a dangerous environment or to the dead or injured will have substantial impacts on mental health in military personnel and others exposed to similar occupational trauma. Potential explanations for divergent findings in the literature on the extent to which deployment-related trauma contributes to the burden of mental disorders are discussed.


Afghanistan campaign; Canada; Combat; Gender; Military personnel; Post-traumatic stress disorder

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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