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Barriers to Care

The Department of Defense (DOD) strives to better understand the barriers to care that service members face regarding mental health diagnoses and treatment. Seeking care early can help service members address mental health conditions before they worsen. Despite the benefits of seeking mental health care, approximately 60-70 percent of military personnel who experience mental health problems do not seek mental health services. This underutilization of services may be ascribed to many types of barriers to mental health .

Mental Health Stigma

Mental health stigma is a dynamic process by which individuals internalize a marked identity about themselves and people with mental health disorders. Mental health care stigma in the military stems in part from the military’s emphasis on certain qualities in service members (e.g., stoicism, strength, and independence). Service members sometimes believe that seeking mental health care conflicts with the personification of these qualities.

While research indicates that stigma related to seeking mental health care remains a significant concern for service members, particularly those in need of mental health treatment, there are mixed findings about how it impacts treatment-seeking behavior or mental health service use. This stigma can have short-term and long-term impacts on service members’ intentions to seek treatment, beliefs and attitudes about treatment, readiness, reintegration, and quality of life. DOD promotes efforts to reduce mental health stigma including the Real Warriors Campaign and resources developed by the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE), such as Writing About Mental Health in the Military and Talking About Mental Health in the Military: A Guide for Leaders.

According to the 2014 RAND Corporation report “Mental Health Stigma in the Military,” mental health stigma has been linked to four key interrelated factors:

Military Context Graphic -

Factors Contributing to Stigma

Factors Contributing to Stigma

Barriers to Care Resources

Our downloadable infographics describe barriers to mental health care, including career, deployability, confidentiality, and security clearance concerns.

Thumbnail of the Barriers to Mental Health Care infographicBarriers to Mental Health Care

Service members with mental health symptoms do not seek care for a variety of reasons from confidentiality concerns to stigma. This infographic describes the types of barriers to care and how they impact service members. Download PDF

Thumbnail of PHCoE infographic that describes career concerns that keep some service members from seeking mental health care.Barriers to Care: Career Concerns

Survey research suggests that up to 35 percent of service members believe receiving mental health treatment can negatively impact their careers. This resource describes career concerns that keep service members from seeking mental health care. Download PDF

Thumbnail of PHCoE infographic that describes the few mental health conditions or medications that may affect deployabilityBarriers to Care: Mental Health and Deployment Concerns

Only a few mental health conditions or medications affect deployability. This infographic addresses mental health concerns and deployment. Download PDF

Thumbnail of PHCoE infographic that explains guidelines for confidentiality of mental health information in the military and how patients can work with providers to help protect their information.Barriers to Care: Mental Health Confidentiality Concerns

This resource explains guidelines for confidentiality of mental health information in the military and how patients can work with their providers to help protect their information. Download PDF

Thumbnail of PHCoE infographic that addresses concerns about mental health and security clearances and explains how seeking treatment may contribute favorably to eligibility decisions.Barriers to Care: Security Clearance – Mental Health Section Endorsement and Treatment-Seeking Concerns

It is extremely rare to have a security clearance denied or revoked solely on the basis of reporting mental health conditions or treatment. This resource addresses concerns about mental health and security clearances and explains how seeking treatment may contribute favorably to eligibility decisions. Download PDF

Thumbnail of the Mental Health Utilization infographicMental Health Utilization and Promotions

Concerns about being promoted keep some service members from seeking mental health care. This infographic shares findings from a PHCoE evaluation into the consequences of seeking mental health care on promotion to the senior enlisted ranks. Download PDF

The content of this page was last reviewed on April 1, 2021

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