The Brits and PTSD

British soldiers experience post-traumatic stress disorder at a drastically lower rate than their American counterparts

| November-December 2011

  • ptsd-sm.jpg

    Image by Flickr user: daweiding / Creative Commons

  • ptsd-sm.jpg

They fight the same battles with similar weapons and training. But when it comes to aftershock, British and U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report very different experiences. Soldiers in the United States experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a rate of 30 percent. Brits: 4 percent.

In part, the numbers can be explained by cultural difference. “I think it’s something totally about the medicalization of distress,” says Neil Greenberg, the British coauthor of a study published this year by the U.K.’s Royal Society of Medicine and reported in Miller-McCune (July-Aug., 2011). “In the U.K., our national approach towards psychological distress is ‘Crack on with it if you can.’ ” The study found that British combat vets tend to drink more and report a higher incidence of milder diagnoses, like depression.

Another explanation is the stark difference between how the two governments deploy their troops. U.K. rules prohibit soldiers from spending more than 13 months in combat during a three-year period, and average tours of duty are six months—half the length of American soldiers’.

Even more important are programs that send U.K. soldiers for a few days of “third location decompression” on the island of Cyprus before returning them to their home communities. “One to four days of R&R on a Mediterranean island with members of the same fighting unit apparently helps veterans come home with an easier mind,” reports Miller-McCune.

The U.S. Marine Corps has recently launched its own decompression program—a tour of duty on a surfboard. “Ocean therapy,” as it’s called, is designed to assist PTSD sufferers. “There’s nothing like surfing to touch the mind, the body, and the spirit all at the same time,” the program director told Miller-McCune (July 20, 2011).

168-cover-thumb.jpgHave something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter