Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health Care in Veterans

Returning soldier hugging wife
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Many people avoid seeking out help for psychological problems because of the perceived stigma associated with needing mental health care. This may particularly be the case for military service members.

OEF/OIF soldiers face a number of highly stressful situations, including deployment, combat exposure, and reintegration. Given this, it is really not that surprising that OEF/OIF veterans are showing high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol use, anger management problems, physical health problems, and suicide. However, many do not seek out treatment for these difficulties. Multiple studies suggest only about half of veterans get treatment.

Stigma as a Barrier to Seeking Treatment

According to a report by the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a major reason many service members do not seek out treatment is the stigma associated with receiving mental health care. Many service members are worried that disclosing psychological difficulties or seeking out mental health treatment will negatively affect their military careers. However, the consequences of not seeking out treatment can be dire. Untreated psychological difficulties may only get worse and could have a major impact on a soldier's ability to perform in combat or at home when they return from duty.

What Is Being Done to Combat Stigma

The Department of Defense has recognized that stigma is a major problem in the armed forces, and as a result, every branch of the military is taking steps to combat the stigma associated with mental health problems and seeking out treatment.

For example, to limit fear that the report of psychological difficulties will negatively impact security clearance, the Department of Defense no longer requires people to report if they have sought out mental health care for combat-related reasons.

In 2009, the Department of Defense launched an anti-stigma campaign called the Real Warriors Campaign. This campaign is designed to promote resilience, recovery, and support for returning service members, veterans, and their families. In addition, high-ranking military personnel are sharing their experiences with PTSD and the treatment they received on the campaign website.

The Department of Defense is attempting to convey that the experience of stress as a result of combat-related experiences is normal.

Getting Help

If you are a returning service member in need of mental health services, it is important to go to your local VA office for help. Services are available. You can also find useful information on getting help at the websites of the National Center for PTSD and Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained crisis worker. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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