Mental Health and the Military: Reducing the Stigma

mental-healthThis month is Mental Health Awareness month – a time when the national spotlight is on mental illness and its effects on individuals, families and on our society. It’s also a time to educate ourselves to help end the silence and to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Mental illness exacts a real toll on our community. However, what is different for our community, the military community, is the way in which mental illness is viewed.

Mental illness as a whole is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with a mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This often prevents them from seeking out the services they need.

Families are reluctant to seek treatment, as well. Will it affect their spouse’s career? Who will know? Some spouses are afraid to admit to any mental health issues for fear they will burden their already taxed service member with their own issues. As a result, their struggles become private.

When you look at the number of people affected, the numbers are staggering. Overall, mental illnesses are now more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. One in every five families, and over 60 million Americans, are affected at some point in their lifetime by mental illness.

Our military families have very real needs when it comes to mental health. This is a call to action. A call to our leaders and our advocates to push for increased and improved services for our families. Our community needs help. In order to help, some obstacles need to be removed. For example:

  • Eliminate the barriers in connecting families with mental health resources.
  • Incorporate best practices when treating military service members and families.
  • Provide a seamless transition of care from duty station to duty station.
  • Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
  • Start comprehensively tracking the suicide rate among military family members.
  • Increase/improve education and reduce mental health stigma.
  • Support the transition from deployment to reintegration AND the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
  • Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured (mentally or physically) and provide support for CAREGIVERS.

Mental Health Awareness month is a great opportunity to voice your concerns. Educate yourself on the mental health issues that impact your community and advocate for increased and improved services for all. Only by tackling this together can we reduce the stigma and begin to help the number of families affected by mental illness within our community, not just during Mental Health Awareness month, but every month.

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Research Psychologist, Military Suicide Research Consortium

 

 

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