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From warfare to welfare: a comparative study of how combat trauma is internalized and institutionalized

Mid-Term Report Summary - COMBATTRAUMA (From warfare to welfare: a comparative study of how combat trauma is internalized and institutionalized)

This project is an anthropological study of combat veterans’ mental health and mental health care. Research is being conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Israel. These four countries have military ties and some sociocultural similarities, but also present important contrasts, such as differences in their PTSD rates, in their recent military roles in international conflicts, and in their health care systems for combat veterans. This project will develop a comparative framework for understanding how combat related mental health problems are experienced, treated, and institutionalized in different social and healthcare contexts.

Methodologically, it combines ethnographic fieldwork with combat veterans, research on clinical practices, and analysis of the policies and institutions that shape mental health and health care. Ethnographic fieldwork with combat veterans investigates how psychosocial problems related to military service are experienced. Qualitative research with mental health care providers and experts from different disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. psychiatry, psychology, and nursing) examines care practices and clinical reasoning about war syndromes. This focus on patients, clinicians, and institutions is expected to yield nuanced, contextual and comparative knowledge of combat veterans’ problems. It aims to advance understanding of when and why combat veterans -- a notoriously difficult to treat population - seek mental health care, or avoid it. It is also expected to yield knowledge of current mental health care practices that can be used to improve policies, interventions or training practices.

The project employs a research team with complementary anthropological, historical and qualitative research expertise. We are developing collaborations with military and health care institutions in the US, the UK, Israel, and the Netherlands in order to produce outcomes that target both social science publics as well clinicians and other stakeholders in the field. Most publications will be produced in the second half of the project but initial outcomes from the US research include a book chapter as well as an invited seminar talk on the problem of “barriers to health care”.