Predicting the Psychological Risks of War

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Science  29 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6042, pp. 520-521
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6042.520

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Troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan face tremendous stress, and as many as 300,000 American troops have returned home with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. Even so, those thousands constitute only a minority of the nearly 2 million U.S. troops deployed in the current conflicts. Why do some people seem to endure the grinding stress and sudden horrors of war better than others? Several research projects are now exploring that question in active-duty troops, drawing on an emerging understanding of the biological roots of fear, anxiety, and depression. Researchers hope to learn more about the biological effects of war-fighting and to identify risk factors that influence individuals' vulnerability to combat stress. The ultimate goal is to develop tests to identify the most vulnerable soldiers and find ways to protect them, perhaps with prophylactic medication or extra training before deployment.