Hospitals See Increase in Troop Mental Health Disorders

The national trend may mean more troops are getting help, one doctor says

A startling number of active duty troops are being hospitalized for mental health disorders but it may be a positive trend.

According to a new report by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, nearly 22,000 active duty service members were hospitalized for mental health issues in 2011.

That's a 19 percent increase in just one year. Repeated long deployments and prolonged combat stress take their toll.

Air Force Veteran Kurt Schwab, who now lives in San Diego, says his PTSD was overwhelming. A C130 load master, memories of combat flights haunted him and in 2006 he tried to take his own life.

"When I came home I had no family backing, no friends, I didn't have a job. I was afraid to go out and talk to people - I was afraid that I might bother them, so I stayed inside," said Schwab.

CDR Ronald Burbank heads in-patient mental health care at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

He says the national trend does match what he's seen in San Diego, but it may mean more troops are getting help.

"My hope is this is a good thing - that it's because we have gotten the awareness out, and that patients and troops are more comfortable with coming into mental health, and that there is less fear that it might negatively impact their career."

CDR Burbank says coming in early can improve the success of treatment, and despite the stigma - careers have been saved.

"Our ultimate goal is fitness for duty, and so our first goal is doing all we can do to help that patient be a functional member in the command", said Burbank.

Kurt Schwab got treatment for his PTSD, and now he's healthy. He now leads the organization “Veterans of Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom” and helps other veterans. He says awareness is key.

"I see the public is actually starting to see the symptoms and recognize the symptoms. And when they recognize or see the symptoms - then they finally take that step and get the help that the folks are needing."

Dr. Burbank says some signs that a person may be suffering a mental health disorder include: loss of interest in hobbies, trouble sleeping or with concentration, or even changes in appetite. He says the first step in getting help is to consult with your general practitioner who can refer you for appropriate care.

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