Mental Health Challenges of Active-Duty Versus Reserve Military Personnel

Active-duty members of our armed forces are fully employed by the branch of service that they represent. They usually live on or near the military base that they are affiliated with, and their families have access to resources designed to address the needs of military life. However, military reservists do not always live in the same conditions as active-duty personnel. For instance, many reservists hold down civilian jobs and live in civilian areas that are not designed as military housing. But both active-duty and reserve personnel can be called on to serve in combat. Therefore, understanding the stresses that precipitate and result from serving in a combat zone is important in order to address the mental health challenges of these soldiers.

To find out how the mental well-being of military reservists differs from that of active-duty military personnel, Marian E. Lane, Ph.D., of the Substance Abuse, Epidemiology and Military Behavioral Health Program at RTI International in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, recently led a study that examined data from more than 18,000 reservists and more than 16,000 active-duty military members. She found that among nondeployed personnel, reservists had lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than their active-duty counterparts. However, rates of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and suicidal ideation were significantly higher in the deployed reservists compared to deployed active-duty personnel.

Lane believes that reservists may react more extremely to the anxiety of potential deployment than active-duty personnel because they are somewhat removed from the daily stresses of military action. When they are called to serve, they have to consider the ramifications their actions will have on their families, their employment, and their finances. These additional stresses can cause reservists to experience sharper declines in mental health both before and after deployment. It is imperative to consider these issues when designing treatments to help all military personnel cope with the difficulties of serving their country. However, Lane added, “Continued research efforts aimed at providing services and interventions tailored to reservists will better facilitate the successful return and reintegration of service members experiencing postdeployment mental health issues.”

Lane, M. E., Hourani, L. L., Bray, R. M., Williams, J. (2012). Prevalence of perceived stress and mental health indicators among reserve-component and active-duty military personnel. American Journal of Public Health, 102.6, 1213-1220.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • dawkins


    June 5th, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    It’s like when you are active duty, you are doing your job. That is the thing that you are focused on and that keeps you going.

    When you are reserve, you do have a lot more time to think about the things that you will be missing out on if and when you are called back into service.

    The danger has always been there, but when you are not in the line of fire so to speak, you become even more aware of the dangers that could come to face you at another point down the road.

  • Blaine


    June 5th, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I know that it is not then only answer, but at least this is something that we are talking about.

    For many years I don’t think that nay military personnel would have been willing to admit that they had reservations about going back to active duty. They just decided to serve and maybe suffer in silence. But we all know that isn’t too healthy for anyone and hopefully the military as a whole is recognizing this too. We don’t yet have all of the solutions and maybe there never will be anything that will totally allay their fears and concerns. But as long as we are all talking about it and see that it can be a problem then at least there is some room for improvement.

  • ree


    June 6th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    I naturally would have thought that reservists would have an easier time than those in active duty status.
    I think about the dangers being faced every day by active duty soldiers, and reserve soldiers don’t usually have to worry about that.
    Their lives are pretty normal compared to those in the line of fire every day.

  • HannahG


    June 6th, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I don’t know much about the military so I need to know first if most of these reserve soldiers have already been active duty at one time and are now just at home but they still have to be on standby to be called back into combat again.
    If that is how the system works, then for me this would be really hard because I would never feel like I have any real path that I need to be pursuing because things could up and change in an instant if I am called back into military service.
    Never mind the fact that many of these soldiers have had to go back and complete tours and assignments time and time again. It has to feel like you can never get started on anything new and that your life is always on homd as long as you are still under contract or obligation to the military.

  • tobin


    June 7th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    Don’t they tell you about all of these dangers when you enlist? Surely there is not so much candy coating going on that the risks of service are not laid out for you.

  • Karteesha


    June 7th, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Tobin- one thing you might not understand about the military is that they make it a point not to dwell on the bad stuff. They make you all these promises of the things you will get to do and the places you will get to travel, and all of this is true; but they don’t tell you about the hellhole places that you may have to go to, too, or the things that you might see that will give you nightmares for years on end. Or how when they let you out, it doesn’t matter, you might still be called back up sometime. See it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be. So it’s a challenege to become a civilian again, and I think that’s the way they want it so that you will consider your time in service far greater than that which you will experience when you get out.

  • Dana Steiner

    Dana Steiner

    June 15th, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    As a psychotherapist who works both in private practice and with the Navy Reserve I think more research needs to be done. You have no idea how many members of your community are suffering in silence. I’m committed to working with them and their families and it is research such as this that can help improve awareness of the unique challenges Reservists of all branches of the military face.

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