In the Military, Stigma Is Still Keeping Troops from Needed Mental Healthcare

Cropped SingleCare logo By | October 20, 2015

With more and more service members suffering from illnesses like PTSD, mental health in the military is starting to glare in the public eye. However, a persistent stigma on mental health issues continues to prevent many active service members and veterans from seeking treatment.

Too many sad stories revolve around the mental health of our troops, tragedies that are often the consequence of misinformation or prejudice. In the word of retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, as reported by People Magazine, “I didn’t know you could die by being too sad.” Graham was referring to his son, Kevin Graham, who committed suicide in 2003.

An Army ROTC Cadet at the University of Kentucky, Kevin suffered from diagnosed depression, and had been prescribed a regular dosage of Prozac. After he suddenly stopped taking his medication, Kevin tragically took his own life. When left untreated, clinical depression can have devastating consequences, not only for sufferers, but for their loved ones as well.

Resisting Care

Unfortunately, Kevin’s case isn’t rare. A panel of experts at a military and family symposium in Washington, D.C. reported in the Military Times that troops and veterans consistently refuse to get mental health treatment. Much of this resistance can be attributed to a long-lasting stigma on mental and emotional disorders.

According to the U.S. Air Force, despite efforts on the part of military leaders, many members still view mental health issues as a sign of weakness, or believe that their peers and superiors do. “People don’t want to be seen as a weak link,” said retired Army Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that only a few people lose security clearances or jobs because of mental health, but the rare cases that do cause many to worry unnecessarily about their careers. “The other 999 airmen who get treatment and return to their units happy go back quietly,” explains Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz. Unfortunately, many people focus on the minority of cases and not the majority.

Many also worry that taking antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs will cause side effects like weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and lethargy. For troops who constantly undergo the scrutiny of physical evaluation, these risks are unappealing. Yet the number of personnel and veterans who would benefit from these drugs is substantial.

CBS News reported that military suicides began rising in 2006 and surged to a high of 349 in 2012, far exceeding American combat deaths in Afghanistan. With such alarming statistics, it’s imperative that troops seek out and receive adequate treatment.

Trauma-Prone Profession

A recent study by the RAND Corporation revealed that 18.5% of U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Nearly 1 in 5 sustained a traumatic brain injury during deployment.

“Mental healthcare is healthcare,” said Navy Capt. Michael Colston. “Just like the sergeant says, ‘You got a rash on your arm, go to the doc,’ they should say, ‘Go get that depression treated.’” Psychological injuries can be just as severe as physical wounds, and can have tragic, life-long consequences.

Strength in Treatment

“We want to demonstrate that accessing care is an act of courage,” says Capt. Anthony Arita. He was involved in the anti-stigma campaign Real Warriors, which emphasized seeking treatment as a sign of bravery.

The battle against mental health stigma is worth fighting for. It’s important for troops and veterans to know that help is available for issues such as PTSD or depression. And for those who have gaps in coverage, SingleCare can help veterans with mental health issues to find affordable care on an as-needed or ongoing basis.

SingleCare grants its members access to an expansive network of mental health providers at pre-negotiated low rates. No premiums, copays, or deductibles — just a flat, one-time fee for the services actually used.

(Main image credit: Wikimedia)