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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UMass: Study Finds Military Members with Serious Brain Injuries Are at Greater Risk of Mental Health Disorders

U.S. combat soldiers who suffered a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely than soldiers with other serious injuries to experience a range of mental health disorders, according to a new retrospective study led by Dr. David Chin at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

“A central takeaway is that severe TBI is associated with a greater risk of mental health conditions – not just PTSD,” says Dr. Chin.

The research, published in the journal Military Medicine, is the largest and broadest look at severe combat injury in the military and associated mental health outcomes. Dr. Chin and UMass Amherst co-author Dr. John Zeber examined the cases of 4,980 military members – most from the Army or Marines – who were severely injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. Nearly a third of them suffered moderate or severe TBI.

Mining data from the U.S. Department of Defense, Dr. Chin found that 71% of all the severely injured soldiers were diagnosed in follow-up care with at least one of five mental health conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and mood disorders, adjustment reactions, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and cognitive disorders. Previous research reported that a much lower 42% of seriously injured combat soldiers went on to be diagnosed with mental health disorders.

Diagnoses for every mental health condition were higher among the cases of TBI than other severe injuries. In addition, Dr. Chin found that the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder is higher – not lower, as previous investigators have assumed – among combat soldiers with more severe TBI.

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