According to a recent Washington Post study, approximately 20% of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are psychologically damaged. Among them are a substantial number with post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, and the high rate of suicide among PTSD sufferers has become unacceptable to Army commanders and the soldiers’ families. Thanks to new research from Tel Aviv University, however, doctors will now be able to forecast a soldier’s chances of falling prey to PTSD, with the chance of intervening to prevent military-related suicides.
Prof. Talma Hendler of TAU’s Department of Psychology and Psychiatry and the founding director of the Tel Aviv Functional Brain Center has developed a new predictive tool for detecting at-risk soldiers. The tool will permit clinicians to diagnose and treat these soldiers immediately before the stressors of combat lead to chronic psychological problems.
Studying a group of 50 Israeli soldiers — trained medics who experienced extreme stress in live combat zones — Prof. Hendler and her graduate student Roee Admon in collaboration with Col. Dr. Gad Lubin from the Israel Defense Forces were able to predict which soldiers would develop significant increases in stress symptoms such as mood decline, intrusive thoughts, and sleep disturbance. This May, Prof. Hendler was given a special award from the U.S. Army Commanding General of Medical Research for her advances. The research was published in the August issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Prof. Hendler’s research shows functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to forecast which soldiers might be vulnerable to stress psychopathology in the future. The non-invasive imaging method records the brain activity of military personnel before they enter active duty. Using this baseline as a reference, the researchers can predict which soldier is more prone to exhibit after exposure combat-related stress symptoms — symptoms that can trigger PTSD or major depression. – af