Military Mental Health: An Upward Trek
Mental health is often unaddressed in the military – both by veterans and active duty members. Statistically, however, problems with mental health are more prevalent than in civilian life. It makes sense considering what the military is tasked with. It seems evident that dangerous fighting in unfamiliar lands could bring psychological anguish to the strongest of human beings. Indeed for many soldiers it comes from military events like combat.
Still, not all military members with disorders developed them in service. One study found that almost 50% of soldiers had pre-existing mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the most prevalent issues for service men and women are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Also common are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intermittent explosive disorder in which sufferers violently lash out when agitated. These problems are sometimes accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse which is a disorder all on its own.
Perhaps you’ve heard the abbreviation PTSD in a commercial or mentioned in a film. Maybe even a friend or loved one has been diagnosed. PTSD is a disorder that can develop weeks, months, or even years after trauma. Symptoms include re-experiencing traumatic events,avoidance of triggers, and being easily agitated. If these symptoms persist long enough and intrude on one’s life then PTSD may be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Our society has gotten better at addressing PTSD but in the military it’s still widely untreated. Treatment, as with many other disorders, involves an ongoing interplay between therapy and medication.
Despite the seriousness of PTSD and other issues faced by service men and women, there seems to be pressure to conceal mental problems. A report describes soldiers at one facility having nicknamed an elevator “the elevator of shame.” It was the only way to reach the psychologist’s office.
As we see too many times in these posts,a huge problem here is mental health stigma – and self stigma is as much a problem as un-accepting peers. A lot of soldiers fear being discharged or losing opportunities if they disclose mental illness. Unfortunately, sometimes these fears are justified. According to reports, soldiers with mental illness are often passed over for assignments. The doers of these jobs must be at top physical and mental shape for maximum safety.
It’s a difficult situation for the military to address, one which outlasts active service.
In recent years there’s been an uptick in suicides among veterans with mental illness. Psychological issues hinder some veterans’ ability to return to civilian life. Compounding this dilemma a reset backs to getting help. Veterans’ hospitals are often under-served and have unreasonably long waits. Plus, a retired soldier may not be free of stigma.They may not seek out needed treatment.
Efforts are underway by the military and others to treat psychological issues the same as any other. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has sought to partner with various organizations in an effort to expand treatment and promote understanding of mental health. There are also hotline numbers and support for veterans/soldiers in crisis or for their family members. Even teletherapy/telepsychiatry could be used by military members far from a doctor.
If you or a loved one are in the military and need psychological help, please don’t hesitate to seek help. The consequences of silence outweigh those of speaking or reaching out. Below are some resources:
Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255)
Paws and Effect – An organization that joins veterans with service animals.
TRICARE – The military’s mental health program.
And HERE is a comprehensive list from Military One Source of links to almost any mental health resource a soldier/veteran or their families may need.
Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.
Kime, Patricia (2015, September) Panel:Stigma is obstacle to mental health care. Military Times. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 from https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/military-benefits/health-care/2015/09/10/panel-stigma-is-obstacle-to-mental-health-care/
National Institute of Mental Health (2016, February) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
Willingham, Val (2014, March) Study:Rates of many mental disorders much higher in soldiers than in civilians. CNN. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 from https://www.cnn.com/2014/03/03/health/jama-military-mental-health/
Young, Joel L. (2016, June) Military Mental Health. Psychology Today. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201606/military-mental-health
Zoroya, Greg (2016, May) Pentagon perpetuates stigma of mental health counseling, study says. USA Today. Retrieved on November 14, 2018 from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/05/05/study-slams-pentagon-failing-end-stigma-mental-health-counseling/83922456/