Værnepligt Håndedhed og Social Baggrund / Handedness and Social-psychiatric Background

Værnepligt Håndedhed og Social Baggrund / Handedness and Social-psychiatric Background

English summary below. For Danish speakers: easy to read copy here:  Vaernepligt haandedhed og social baggrund

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Published in Nord Psykiatr Tidskrift  (Nordic Psychiatric Journal) 1986; 40:307-311. Oslo ISSN 0029-1455 by Dr Gorm Odden Petersen et al

Researchers’ summary: “Examined by questionnaire for handedness and social-psychiatric background were 179 conscripts hospitalized in the Department of Military Psychiatry at the University Hospital of Copenhagen. Those belonging to the control group consisted of 191 drafted (but not hospitalized) for national service. No difference in handedness was observed between the two groups. On the other hand, a significant difference was found between the groups as regards years of childhood separated from parents, duration of schooling, education in special classes, number of people with education after school and unemployment. There were more participants in the conscript group than those belonging to the control group who had an overconsumption of alcohol, abuse of hashish, consumption of psychotherapeutic drugs or had consulted a psychiatrist or psychologist. Twenty-five percent of the participants and 10% of the control group had volunteered for duty because of unemployment. This investigation indicates that problems during national service break out particularly in individuals who had formerly been exposed to strong psycho-social strain.

Conscripts who are referred to the ward have problems with adapting to service. This research project started because there was a suspicion that there was a majority of left handed people admitted to the ward. The result of the research was that this was not the case.”

However, the research showed other differences: Compared with the individuals in the control group those who had been referred to psychiatric treatment in the Department of Military Psychiatry had left school early, had much more often received special/supportive teaching because of problems with learning, were more likely to have no vocational training or qualification, had more often been unemployed (also for longer periods); had had a bigger consumption of alcohol and hashish and had more often consulted a psychiatrist and/or psychologist. Regarding the reason for being a soldier there was also a difference between the two groups: among the patients (the soldiers who had had mental break downs during service), there were many more non-volunteers or volunteers who had signed up because of unemployment. The conclusion is that many in this group had tried to solve their personal problems, such as unemployment, by enlisting – with catastrophic consequences to their own mental health as a result.

This shows that vulnerable young people, young men who in early life have had lesser opportunities and lesser support and security than others are most at risk when subject to the “military style” of training. They will in larger numbers break down as a consequence of abusive “training methods”. In the discussions in the Danish media (most of it was on TV, including a documentary: Soldat dit navn er mand)) following my article about the abusive Danish military, these young people were repeatedly blamed for their own suffering and, in reality, dismissed as inferior beings. Not only was this the view of the highest medical officers of the armed forces and other senior military officers but not even Gorm, the chief author of the research project, for whom I had worked, would in public support the view that these youngsters beyond any doubt were victims of abuse and that that fact in most every case was the sole reason for their admittance to his ward. No, none of these people would acknowledge that the abusive system had ruined these young men’s first adult years, and, most likely, many years to come. What their own state had exposed them to of abuse (read my article) was swept under the carpet: the victims were blamed for the crime. We have seen that before in other contexts, haven’t we?