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Stress and Psychological Support in Modern Military Operations (Update 081)

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Human Factors and Medicine

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Family Care, Mental Health, Military Leaders, MilitaryOperations, Psychological Support, Readiness, Screening, Stress


Participation in military operations is potentially harmful to mental health. Historically, this has been recognised and documented using different terminology (shell shock, combat fatigue, combat stress, PTSD, …). Effective military leadership is directed towards operational readiness and maintaining high morale. Therefore managing the effects of stress is one of the command tools of modern military leaders. Psychological stress is not just limited to high intensity conflicts in which killing and life threatening situations occur frequently. Modern military operations such as peace enforcing, peace supporting and humanitarian operations have also proven to be stressful. Forced neutrality and non-intervention, witnessing atrocities, culture shock, separation from one’s family, and existential questions induced by the situation are all elements that can disrupt the normal psychological functioning of the individual. This not only affects the operational effectiveness and mental well being of the individual during the operation: it also affects family, social and work reintegration and attitudes towards the organisation following the operation. Adverse stress reactions may have long term detrimental effects on an individual’s functioning and well being. Governments and military leaders are responsible for the personnel they send on military operations. This encompasses not only the provision of applicable mandates, adequate training, equipment and support, but also accepting responsibility for the impact of operations on personnel. Under the influence of factors such as public opinion, legislation, the increased number of operational commitments and issues surrounding attrition and retention, many nations are developing or modifying ways of organising and providing psychological support. The Armed Forces have to provide adequate psychological preparation and support during and after the operations for both military personnel and their families.


Update Report HFM081


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