In honor of Veteran’s Day, it’s important to address the mental health stigma of veterans and their lack of support. Many avoid seeking out help for psychological problems because of the perceived stigma associated with needing mental health care. They may worry about what others think and how they are perceived. Stigma stems from misinformation, and can be resolved by spreading proper awareness.
Because of stigma, some people may believe things about mental health problems that aren't true. Stigma happens when others:
Unfortunately, other people’s stigma can lead one to feel shame or guilt about having a mental health problem.
Soldiers face a number of highly stressful situations, including deployment, combat exposure, and reintegration. Given this, it’s not surprising that veterans are showing high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol use, anger management issues, physical health problems, and suicide. Unfortunately, many do not seek out treatment. Multiple studies suggest only about half of veterans get treatment. It seems that many service members are worried that disclosing psychological difficulties or seeking out treatment will negatively affect their military careers and personal lives. However, the consequences of not seeking out treatment can be dangerous. 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.
Fortunately, a lot 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. For those seeking treatment after their service, an anti-stigma campaign called the Real Warriors Campaign was launched. It’s designed to promote resilience, recovery, and support for returning service members, veterans, and their families. Additionally, we can do our part by spreading awareness on the importance of mental health recovery for our military and veterans.
Nash, W. P., Silva, C. & Litz, B. (2009). The historic origins of military and veteran mental health stigma and the stress injury model as a means to reduce it. Psychiatric Annals, 39(8). doi: 10.3928/00485713-20090728-05