Troops Shy Away from Mental Health Help
If you’ve ever suffered from a mental health issue, or know someone who has, then you know it’s not an easy topic to talk about. Western culture has long stigmatized individuals seeking help for mental health issues, and there has been an especially strong stigma attached to military personnel seeking professional help. And while that may be improving, a new survey shows that not nearly enough progress has been made. Let’s take a closer look . . .
Western culture has long stigmatized individuals seeking help for mental health issues. There has been an especially strong stigma attached to military personnel seeking professional help. Although some progress has been made, in many areas it is still considered “weak and unprofessional” to confess to mental health concerns.
If that weren’t enough of a barrier, CNN.com reports that our U.S. military personnel have another reason for not getting the help they need. Many members of the military fear seeking this type of help could ultimately stall or harm their careers, according to a recent survey.
According to the online survey conducted for the American Psychiatric Association, three out of five members of the military are deeply concerned admitting to psychiatric problems would have some impact, at the very least. Fifty percent said they feared people would think less of them if they sought out this type of help. Both men and women were surveyed and responded with equal concern.
This report was released one day prior to an announcement by Robert Gates, Defense Secretary. This announcement was geared toward encouraging more service members to seek help for post-combat stress.
Officials from the Pentagon have stated troops who file for security clearances will no longer have to answer a question on the standard application – which asks respondents whether they have been treated for combat-related mental health issues. Currently, if members of the military say they have received treatment, they must sit down and answer the question (in detail) with a security agent.
The President of the APA, Dr. Carolyn Robinowitz, called the survey results “alarming” and has strongly urged Congress to devote more money to treating mental health problems which arise as a result of serving in combat zones.
The survey also revealed that one in four troop members said he or she knew “nothing at all about effective mental health treatments for issues that may arise from service in a war zone,” Robinowitz said. She said a military culture emphasizes toughness and this could hinder efforts to get military personnel to seek help.
A majority of the troops rated their mental health as good or excellent. However, many report regularly experiencing mental illness symptoms – including inability to sleep and lack of interest in daily activities at a frequency of at least two times per week.
These findings have been released after a much larger study by the RAND Corp., which found that almost one in five military members who returned from Afghanistan or Iraq had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Only one-half of those diagnosed sought any treatment.
When spouses of service members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan were asked to participate in a study, the results were strikingly similar. Although not reacting with post-traumatic stress disorder, a large number were exhibiting signs of major depression and anxiety. They, too, were reluctant to seek help and for the same reason. They felt they “should” be able to handle life just fine without any outside intervention.
Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. If you or a loved one is facing a mental health concern, the best option is to seek help - and the sooner the better.