The impact of antecedent trauma exposure and mental health symptoms on the post-deployment mental health of Afghanistan-deployed Australian troops

Amelia K. Searle, Miranda Van Hooff, Ellie R. Lawrence-Wood, Blair S. Grace, Elizabeth J. Saccone, Carol P. Davy, Michelle Lorimer, Alexander C. McFarlane

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Background Both traumatic deployment experiences and antecedent traumas increase personnel's risk of developing PTSD and depression. However, only cross-sectional studies have assessed whether antecedent trauma moderates stress reactions to deployment experiences. This study prospectively examines whether antecedent trauma moderates the association between deployment trauma and post-deployment PTSD and depressive symptoms after accounting for antecedent mental health problems, in a large Australian Defence Force (ADF) sample. Methods In the ADF Middle East Area of Operations Prospective Study, currently-serving military personnel deployed to Afghanistan across 2010–2012 (n = 1122) completed self-reported measures at pre-deployment and post-deployment. Results Within multivariable regressions, associations between deployment trauma and PTSD and depressive symptoms at post-deployment were stronger for personnel with greater antecedent trauma. However, once adjusting for antecedent mental health problems, these significant interaction effects disappeared. Instead, deployment-related trauma and antecedent mental health problems showed direct associations with post-deployment mental health problems. Antecedent trauma was also indirectly associated with post-deployment mental health problems through antecedent mental health problems. Similar associations were seen with prior combat exposure as a moderator. Limitations Antecedent and deployment trauma were reported retrospectively. Self-reports may also suffer from social desirability bias, especially at pre-deployment. Conclusions Our main effects results support the pervasive and cumulative negative effect of trauma on military personnel, regardless of its source. While antecedent trauma does not amplify personnel's psychological response to deployment trauma, it is indirectly associated with increased post-deployment mental health problems. Antecedent mental health should be considered within pre-deployment prevention programs, and deployment-trauma within post-operational screening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-71
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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