Introduction We investigated the effect of unmet medical need on the mental health of Republic of Korea (ROK) Armed Forces personnel, as most of the service members work in remote areas and often experience such unmet needs. Methods This study used secondary data from the 2014 Military Health Survey (MHS), conducted by the ROK School of Military Medicine and designed to collect military health determinants. Descriptive statistics showed the general characteristics of the study populations by variable. We specifically compared the population after stratifying participants by suicide ideation. An analysis of variance was also carried out to compare Kessler Psychological Distress Scale 10 Scores. Additionally, dependent spouses and children of both active-duty service members and retirees are included among those entitled to Military Health System healthcare. Results Among the 4967 military personnel, 681 (13.7%) individuals reported an experience of unmet medical need within the past 12 months and gave reasons of ‘no time (5.15%)’, ‘long office wait (2.6%)’, ‘no money (0.22%)’, ‘long distance from base (1.19%)’, ‘illness but not very serious (1.65%)’, ‘mistrust in doctors (1.95%)’ and ‘pressure due to performance appraisal (0.95%)’. Regression analysis revealed that unmet medical need was significantly associated with negative mental health (β=1.753, p<0.0001) and increased suicide ideation (OR=2.649, 95% CI 1.84 to 3.82). Also, soldiers reporting unmet medical need due to ‘no money’, ‘no time’ or ‘pressure due to performance appraisal’ were significantly more likely to experience similar negative mental health effects. Conclusions Our study indicates that unmet medical need is significantly associated with soldiers’ mental health decline and suicide ideation, highlighting the importance of providing military personnel with timely, affordable and sufficient medical care.
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