The Independent starts with this puzzling fact:
“Something is happening at the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that mental health experts are finding hard to explain: British and American soldiers appear to be having markedly different reactions to the stress of combat. In America, there has been a sharp increase in the number experiencing mental-health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Between 2006 and 2007 alone, there was a 50 per cent jump in cases of combat stress among soldiers and suicides more than doubled. Why the precipitous rise? And why hasn’t there been an accompanying rise in these symptoms among British troops?
The conclusion that British soldiers appear to have a different psychological reaction to the stresses of these modern conflicts was the finding of several recent high-profile studies. This year, in a Royal Society journal, Neil Greenberg of the Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health at King’s College London and colleagues reported that studies of American soldiers showed PTSD prevalence rates of in excess of 30 per cent while the rates among British troops was only four per cent. UK soldiers were more likely to abuse alcohol (13 per cent reported doing so) or experience more common mental disorders such as depression (20 per cent).
Such differences were found even when comparing soldiers who served in the most intense combat zones. In addition, while researchers found increased mental-health risk for American personnel sent on multiple deployments, no such connection was found in British soldiers.”
So, yes, it is not a bad idea to look for sociological explanations for this if indeed, combat conditions and numbers of deployment were controlled for. In other words, the idea is that social structure, power dynamics and culture create a context in which certain categories of thought emerge.
This is the social construction of reality. This is also something that Foucault studied in Madness and Civilization: how a society perceives certain behavior sand classifies them has less to do with the behaviors themselves (see how much the supposedly scientific and objective DSM has changed over the years), but with genealogies of power. In Western societies, the medical practitioner displaced the priest as the adjudicator of proper behavior and moral authority to decide as to what is mentally healthy and what is not. The many ways in which mental health is defined, diagnosed and treated has a lot to do with social control and normative enforcement.
So, again, what social conditions and dynamics would generate the differential rate of PTSD between American and British soldiers? The article goes over some of the history of dealing with soldiers coming home with mental problems and how the rise of the PTSD diagnosis had a lot to do with the US context of the Vietnam War and the social movement opposing it. The diagnosis then became more mainstream and embedded into the language of post-combat mental problems. This context is specifically American, and therefore less likely to affect British soldiers.
It is interesting but then comes the inevitable BS:
“Patrick Bracken, of Bradford University’s Dept of Health Studies, argues that the emergence of PTSD is a symptom of a troubled postmodern world. “In most Western societies there has been a move away from religious and other belief systems which offered individuals stable pathways through life, and meaningful frameworks with which to encounter suffering and death,” Bracken writes. “The meaningful connections of the social world are rendered fragile.”
Oh please. Not only is the American society drowning in religion and conservative dominant discourse on war and the role of the military but the US military is awash in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. If the statement above were true, then the British soldiers would the ones suffering from higher levels of PTSD, not the other way around.
So, maybe we should examine more seriously how fundamentalist religion might affect returning soldiers. Or the social conditions of their reinsertion (or lack thereof) in combination with the differences in health care systems between British and American soldiers.
Here is another suggestion: look at the demographics of the soldiers. We know the US military taps into the lower classes since the military is pretty much the only potential source of social mobility. Is it the same for the UK? And, of course, the process leading to the diagnosis themselves would need to be examined.
Unfortunately, the statement above explains nothing and provides no evidence of anything beyond this person’s ability to spit out a tired cliché. So, why is it even in the goddamn article?
Or have the awful, awful feminists made American soldiers wimpy? </sarcasm>