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Data reported in development and cross-validation of a veterans mental health risk factor screen

Citation

Carlson, Eve (2022), Data reported in development and cross-validation of a veterans mental health risk factor screen, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.tb2rbp03g

Abstract

Background. VA primary care patients are routinely screened for current symptoms of PTSD, depression, and alcohol disorders, but many who screen positive do not engage in care. In addition to stigma about mental disorders and a high value on autonomy, some veterans may not seek care because of uncertainty about whether they need treatment to recover. A screen for mental health risk could provide an alternative motivation for patients to engage in care.

Results. Twelve items assessing dissociation, emotional lability, life stress, and moral injury correctly classified 86% of those who later had elevated PTSD and/or depression symptoms (sensitivity) and 75% of those whose later symptoms were not elevated (specificity). Performance was also very good for 110 veterans who identified as members of ethnic/racial minorities.

Conclusions. Mental health status was prospectively predicted in VA primary care patients with high accuracy using a screen that is brief, easy to administer, score, and interpret, and fits well into VA’s integrated primary care. When care is readily accessible, appealing to veterans, and not perceived as stigmatizing, information about mental health risk may result in higher rates of engagement than information about current mental disorder status.

Methods

Data from samples of veterans and traumatic injury survivors were analyzed to identify  mental health risk factors that are characteristics of individuals or stressors or of post-trauma, post-deployment, or post-military service resources, experiences, or responses. Twelve risk factors were strongly related to PTSD (r > .50): current PTSD, depression, dissociation, negative thinking, and emotional lability symptoms, life stress, relationship stress, social constraints, and deployment experiences of a difficult environment, concerns about life and family, perceived threat, and moral injury. Items assessing each of these risk factors were selected and their validity to prospectively predict PTSD and/or depression 6 months later was assessed in a new sample of 232 VA primary care patients. Twelve items assessing dissociation, emotional lability, life stress, and moral injury correctly classified 86% of those who later had elevated PTSD and/or depression symptoms (sensitivity) and 75% of those whose later symptoms were not elevated (specificity). Performance was also very good for 110 veterans who identified as members of ethnic/racial minorities.

Usage Notes

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Funding

VHA Office of Research and Development, Clinical Services Research and Development*, Award: none