Written by Dr. Karen O’Brien
As a mental health provider at Ft. Lewis and a former VA provider, I can’t count the number of times soldiers and veterans have expressed concerns that admitting to a mental health problem might lead to demotion, loss of security clearance, and even discharge from the service.
I have also heard many soldiers and veterans express the view that only “weak” people talk about their problems. We need to turn around the belief that warrior ethos and seeking help are somehow mutually exclusive.
Approximately one in five veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have been formally diagnosed with either PTSD or major depression. Yet, stigma – the fear of being negatively labeled by others – is still the number one barrier to seeking treatment for mental health care. At the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, we produce mobile apps and websites to help service members, veterans, and their families enhance their psychological health.
Because these technology tools can be accessed anonymously anywhere, anytime, users can avoid any fear of stigma.
To make these technology tools even more useful, we need to understand the reasons people seek or choose not to seek mental health services. Our ongoing Stigma Study is an important step in understanding, and fighting, stigma. If we can better understand how it develops and how to undermine it, we can increase the chances that our service men and women will seek the help they need.
Dr. Karen O’Brien is a therapist and subject matter expert with the Research, Outcomes, Surveillance, and Evaluation (ROSE) division of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology.
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