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Research Questions

  1. What mental health burdens do marines have prior to deployment?
  2. What traumatic events, if any, have marines been exposed to prior to deployment?
  3. What resources do marines use to cope with stress prior to deployment?
  4. What are marines' attitudes toward coping with stress and seeking help prior to deployment?

The Marine Corps Operational Stress Control and Readiness (OSCAR) program is designed to provide mental health support to marines by embedding mental health personnel within Marine Corps units and increasing the capability of officers and senior noncommissioned officers to improve the early recognition and intervention of marines exhibiting signs of stress. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury have asked RAND to evaluate the OSCAR program. As part of this evaluation, RAND conducted a large survey of marines who were preparing for a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2010 or 2011. This report describes the methods and findings from this survey. The results are among the first to shed light on the pre-deployment mental health status of marines, as well as the social resources they draw on when coping with stress and their attitudes about seeking help for stress-related problems. The 2,620 marines in the survey sample had high rates of positive screens for current major depressive disorder (12.5 percent) and high-risk drinking (25.7 percent) and reported having experienced more potentially traumatic events over their lifetime than adult males in the general population. Marines in the sample also reported relying on peers for support with stress and perceiving moderate levels of support from the Marine Corps for addressing stress problems.

Key Findings

Marines Face Significant Mental Health Burdens Prior to Deployment

  • The marines in the survey sample, even those who had never deployed, had high rates of positive screens for current major depressive disorder (MDD) (12.5%) and high-risk drinking (25.7%) relative to adult males in the general U.S. population.
  • Among marines in the sample, even those who had never deployed, the rates of having experienced potentially traumatic events were higher than those of adult males in the general U.S. population.

Junior Enlisted Marines May Be at Higher Risk than Others

  • Rates of MDD and high-risk drinking were three to four times higher among enlisted marines than officers.
  • Rates of high-risk drinking were particularly high among junior enlisted marines (33.1%).
  • Junior enlisted marines (E1–E3) reported the least positive attitudes toward stress response and recovery compared with marines ranked E4–E9 and officers.

Marines' Attitudes Toward Coping with Stress and Help-Seeking Are Generally Positive, but Some Stigma Exists

  • Marines in the sample reported positive attitudes toward their own and others' abilities to cope with stress.
  • Marines who had never deployed had significantly less positive attitudes toward stress response and recovery compared with marines who had deployed once or more.

Recommendations

  • Implement programs to identify and address mental health and alcohol use problems prior to deployment.
  • Investigate the relationship between the pre-deployment mental health burden, experiences while in theater, and the likelihood of developing longer-term mental health problems.
  • Target prevention and treatment efforts toward junior enlisted marines.
  • Consider additional training in combat and operational stress for junior enlisted marines.
  • Provide training in stress recognition and response to all marines.
  • Continue to make multiple resources for help available to accommodate varied help-seeking preferences.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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