Skip to main content

Military Health System

Reducing the stigma and encouraging mental health care in the military

Image of Military personnel wearing face masks talking. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bradley Borytsky, a 28th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron alcohol and drug prevention and treatment technician (left), talks with Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andrew Collins, the 28th OMRS Mental Health flight chief, at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Oct. 7, 2020 (Photo by: Air Force Airman 1st Class Quentin K. Marx).

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Centers of Excellence

In the military, the stigma of mental health is grounded in the cultural misperception that a service member must have "zero defects" to be mission ready.

While the Department of Defense strives to identify and eliminate barriers to care that service members face regarding mental health treatment, stigma remains a significant issue within the military.

Eliminating stigma starts with the individual, their immediate network (family, friends, and colleagues), and the broader community understanding that mental health is an element to overall health. Just as you would see your dentist to maintain oral health and a cardiologist to maintain heart health, seeking treatment for mental health concerns will help keep you in check to ensure you live a healthy, productive life.

Disseminating factual information about mental health care and engaging with service members to bust myths about mental health stigmas in the military can have the effect of encouraging someone who needs care to seek help.

Stigma around mental health care in the military may extend to career concerns, confidentiality, and perception of mental health care.

Military personnel wearing face masks talking
Air Force Capt. Isaiah Jones (right), 59th Medical Wing licensed clinical social worker, speaks with a patient, Nov. 24, 2020, at the Mental Health Clinic, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Mental health providers guide patients through challenging times, including stress or anxiety due to the pandemic, in person or through telehealth (Photo by: Air Force Airman 1st Class Melody Bordeaux).

"These are all barriers to care," said Marjorie Campbell, a clinical psychologist who leads the Psychological Health Center of Excellence's (PHCoE) Prevention and Early Intervention program.

"As a society, we place a premium on being able to take care of ourselves," she said. "In a nutshell, mental health is invisible, and people tend not to believe [in] things that they can't see."

Cultural and historical factors contribute to the belief that mental health disorders are in your head because you can't see them in the way you would a broken limb or a bleeding wound, so acknowledging them must mean you're weak, she explained. But this notion doesn't consider the physical symptoms of mental health on the brain.

She explained our thoughts are physical occurrences that result from the release of electrical and chemical activity. There are physiological underpinnings to every mental health disorder we experience, she said.

"Everything is interconnected," Campbell said. "You can't just separate out mental health and not consider that it's part of the organism."

Campbell, who has studied mental health stigma over time, noted the No. 1 reason service members give for not wanting to seek mental health care is they think they can handle problems on their own.

"That reveals preconceived stereotypes of self-reliance: 'I can do it,' 'I should be able to do it because I'm tough'," she said.

Another issue is treatment dropout, she said. An individual may start treatment because their spouse or their leadership may be pushing them, but they later drop out because they feel they can handle problems on their own. In the studies she saw, 63% of the people who dropped out said it was because they felt they could handle their problems on their own.

To reduce stigma, there are different levels at which an individual's community can intervene.

"As a provider, it's important to address an individual's concerns with stigma at the onset of treatment," she said. "If nothing is on the table, you can't deal with it."

She recommends providers be proactive and ask their patients how they feel about being there, if they are concerned about what other service members think or what their leaders think, and if they think it makes them feel weak.

Infographic about Mental Health Awareness Month
For Mental Health Awareness Month, Army Medicine wants to encourage those to help break the stigma associated with mental health disorders by supporting a friend, family member, or co-worker in need. Inspire them to seek treatment by providing an ear and the resources to get assistance (Photo by: Rebecca Westfall).

Separating the individual from the diagnosis clarifies that the diagnosis is a medical disorder, not one of choice or will.

To reduce stigma and reach those people reluctant to seek care requires a multi-pronged approach, "from the individual provider to Michael Phelps doing a commercial on TV for mental health to the policy work to the leader getting trained on how to support mental health, to the DOD's Real Warriors public awareness campaign," said Campbell.

It also takes ensuring service members know the facts around mental health. "They worry they won't be able to deploy, or will get separated out of the military, or that their unit leaders will find out about their diagnosis and perceive them as weak and make fun of them," said Campbell. "And, although sometimes those things happen, in general, we found that service members' perceptions of these barriers are not accurate."

She said that presenting the facts to them helps them realize mental health is not a deal breaker. "They might have heard one person say something, but this is not a career ender, even if sometimes some service members get medically discharged if they're not fit for duty."

PHCoE has more information on the barriers to care service members face regarding mental health diagnoses and treatment. It offers some do's and don'ts to consider when talking about mental health as well as some statistics on the barriers to mental health care impacting service members.

You also may be interested in...

Suicide Prevention: One Mother's Story

Video
8/25/2022
Suicide Prevention: One Mother's Story

Virginia Cooper's son, Joshua Jaymes Wood, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was 30 years old when he took his life on November 7, 2021. This is her story.

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit | Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Suicide Prevention | Depression

Suicide Prevention: A Message from CSM Gragg

Video
8/25/2022
Suicide Prevention: A Message from CSM Gragg

A message from CSM Michael A. Gragg regarding suicide prevention and how to get help.

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit | Depression | Suicide Prevention | Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE

Seek Mental Health with TRICARE

Video
8/18/2022
Seek Mental Health with TRICARE

Mental health problems can affect your thoughts, mood and behavior. Watch TRICARE's latest video on how to take care of your mental health.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

Interview with the SEAC: TBI from a Joint Perspective

Video
7/18/2022
Interview with the SEAC: TBI from a Joint Perspective

In this episode of Picking Your Brain, Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence Branch Chief Capt. Scott Cota and clinical moderator Amanda Gano interview the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC), Ramón Colón-López. The discussion covers the health impacts of TBI and blast-related concussion stemming from the demands of combat and training. The SEAC also addresses the importance of maintaining medical readiness through education and military leadership. Listen to more Picking Your Brain episodes at www.health.mil/TBIPodcasts, on DVIDS, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBICoE Podcasts | TBI Provider Resources | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators | Centers of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Managing Burnout

Video
5/19/2022
Managing Burnout

Burnout is really a state of extreme exhaustion caused by chronic overwhelming stress. Lt. Col. Catherine Callendar, Air Force Deputy Director of Psychological Health, gives some advice on coping with burnout. Learn more at health.mil/mentalhealth.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

MHS Minute | April 2022

Video
5/3/2022
MHS Minute | April 2022

The MHS Minute highlights some of the outstanding work taking place across the Military Health System, including major milestones, events, notable activities, and much more. Help us get the word out about all of the unique, meaningful, and fascinating work taking place across the MHS by watching and sharing the video, which you can download from DVIDs: https://go.usa.gov/xuy7M. This month’s topic is mental health awareness. Check out the entire playlist: https://go.usa.gov/xtAAq

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Psychological Fitness

Hearing Center of Excellence: Ear Protection

Video
10/26/2021
Hearing Center of Excellence: Ear Protection

Tips for protecting your hearing using the proper protection.

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Centers of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

Start the Conversation

Video
6/18/2021
Start the Conversation

It’s not always obvious when someone is experiencing depression or thinking about suicide. In this video, learn how you can identify signs of distress and take action by starting the conversation about getting help.

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | Psychological Fitness | Suicide Prevention

Mental Health: What Works for Me

Video
5/27/2021
Mental Health: What Works for Me

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, the Military Health System highlights some of the ways people can manage their mental health. From limiting social media to seeking professional help, your mental health is important. Make sure you take care of yourself.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE

MHS Celebrates National Hospital Week

Video
5/12/2021
MHS Celebrates National Hospital Week

During National Hospital Week, we highlight all of the training efforts and safety protocols the Military Health System has put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | May
Showing results 1 - 10 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: August 04, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery