Psychiatric Annals

Feature Article 

The Duration of Deployment and Sensitization to Stress

Alexander C. McFarlane, MD, MBBS (Hons), Dip. Psychother, FRANZCP

Abstract

This article addresses conceptual and theoretical issues concerning how the duration of deployment to a combat theater of operations may impact the mental health of deployed troops. A core principle of occupational medicine, critical to this aim, is to identify hazardous exposures in the workplace and define levels of acceptable exposure to those hazards. The known relationship between combat exposure and combat stress reactions, and the long-term risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is well established. However, the critical issue of the duration of exposure and its impact on the delayed emergence of symptoms has not been analyzed. To date, the literature has not considered the underlying mechanisms that might mediate the adverse effects of duration of deployment in relation to PTSD.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Alexander C. McFarlane, MD, MBBS (Hons), Dip. Psychother, FRANZCP, is Professor of Psychiatry, Centre for Military and Veterans Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.

Address correspondence to: Alexander C. McFarlane, MBBS (Hons), Dip. Psychother, FRANZCP, Centre for Military and Veterans Health, University of Adelaide, Level 2, 122 Frome Street, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia; fax +61 8 8303 5368; or email alexander.mcfarlane@adelaide.edu.au.

Dr. McFarlane has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Abstract

This article addresses conceptual and theoretical issues concerning how the duration of deployment to a combat theater of operations may impact the mental health of deployed troops. A core principle of occupational medicine, critical to this aim, is to identify hazardous exposures in the workplace and define levels of acceptable exposure to those hazards. The known relationship between combat exposure and combat stress reactions, and the long-term risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is well established. However, the critical issue of the duration of exposure and its impact on the delayed emergence of symptoms has not been analyzed. To date, the literature has not considered the underlying mechanisms that might mediate the adverse effects of duration of deployment in relation to PTSD.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Alexander C. McFarlane, MD, MBBS (Hons), Dip. Psychother, FRANZCP, is Professor of Psychiatry, Centre for Military and Veterans Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.

Address correspondence to: Alexander C. McFarlane, MBBS (Hons), Dip. Psychother, FRANZCP, Centre for Military and Veterans Health, University of Adelaide, Level 2, 122 Frome Street, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia; fax +61 8 8303 5368; or email alexander.mcfarlane@adelaide.edu.au.

Dr. McFarlane has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

10.3928/00485713-20090201-05

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