Stress training for soldiers before deployment may help curb PTSD: Study

EDMONTON — Pre-deployment training given to soldiers to help them handle the stresses of a mission overseas is going far in preparing them for the job, says a University of Alberta researcher.

Dr. Ibolja Cernak, the Canadian military and veterans’ chair in clincial rehabilitation at the U of A, recently returned from a month-long trip to Afghanistan, to track how soldiers cope with stress throughout training, while on deployment, and in the years following.

Cernak hoped that by studying the impacts of operational stress, researchers can better develop therapies and programs to preemptively combat mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Canadian Forces.

Cernak said life in Kabul is “still not safe” and “full of surprises,” but that soldiers seemed more than ready to handle whatever comes their way.

During pre-deployment training, the solders’ reflexes, impulses, memory and emotions are tested using short computer simulations.

Saliva and urine were collected so Cernak could monitor hormones and enzymes that relate to stress coping.

“Their mental health balance was actually better than in pre-deployment training,” she said.

“The pre-deployment training did quite well to prepare soldiers to perform as best as they could in a stressful environment.”

However, Cernak said, there is room for improvement; she and her team identified several areas that training could be improved to assist with soldiers’ physical and mental well being.

Soldiers were less proficient with short-term memory, multitasking and troubleshooting, she said.

More than 120 soldiers from the Edmonton Garrison and the Canadian Forces Base in Shilo, Man., volunteered for the study.

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