The association between service members’ participation in humanitarian aid and disaster relief and mental health symptoms and treatments

Yeong Kim, Nilam Patel, Glen Diehl, Patrick Richard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Introduction: There is a scarcity of research establishing a relationship between mental illness and the U.S. military service members who participate in the field of military humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR). One of the few studies in this area showed that participation in military HA/DR was not associated with depressive symptoms, however, the study was limited by sample size. This study examined (1) the relationship between participation in military HA/DR and mental health symptoms and military stress and (2) the relationship between HA/DR and mental health treatment and therapy. Materials and Methods: Data from the 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey was used. The analytic sample consisted of U.S. military service members who participated in HA/DR (the Haiti earthquake and Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf) (n = 573) compared to those who participated in non-HA/DR deployments from 2007 to 2011 (n = 986). Multivariate models were used to examine the relationship between the independent variables and dependent variables while controlling for a set of variables that may confound the relationship between the two. Results: The logistic regression model found that participating in HA/DR deployments decreased the likelihood of service members reporting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms by 3% (p < 0.1) and depressive symptoms by 1% (p < 0.05). Furthermore, participation decreased the likelihood of having a prescription for antidepressants during and/or 3 months after deployment by 1% (p < 0.05). Additional results showed that junior enlisted and senior enlisted members were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD than senior officers (p < 0.05). Marines were more likely to seek treatment and therapy for depression than U.S. Coastguard members (p < 0.1). Conclusion: Results showed that participation in HA/DR was associated with significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, depressive symptoms, and the use of antidepressants by service members. Further research needs to understand the mechanism of these associations for better planning and implementation of HA/DR and delivery of care to service members who participate in these missions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1849-e1855
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


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