Systematic review: deployment length and the mental health of diplomats

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Abstract

Background

While there has been considerable research into the psychosocial consequences of tour length for military personnel, this subject has not been studied in other occupational groups who also deploy staff to high-threat areas.

Aims

To carry out a comprehensive review of relevant published literature to inform diplomatic organizations that deploy staff in high-threat postings (HTPs).

Methods

We searched appropriate scientific databases for studies relevant to deployment length, mental health and well-being for diplomats. A systematic review related to military personnel was found and used as the foundation for the literature review. Other relevant papers identified by the search have also been included.

Results

The majority of identified papers had examined military personnel. Results suggested that longer deployments were associated with poorer mental health including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol problems and this was most likely to be a function of increased exposure to potentially traumatic events. Exceeding a threshold of 6–12 months within a 3 year period, for military personnel, appeared to elevate the risk of psychosocial problems. Furthermore, diplomats deploying on their first HTP, and those whose tour length is altered after deployment, could be especially vulnerable.

Conclusions

While further research of this topic is required, this review provides an evidence-based insight into the increased risks of developing mental health problems when deployed to HTPs. This information is relevant to generating policies, which may reduce the impacts of adverse psychosocial effects on diplomatic staff and their families.

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