The definition of stigma, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “a mark of shame or discredit.” As the country continues to progress through the pandemic, the general stigma around mental health is being challenged as more and more people seek counseling to cope with the changing times. The military carries the same stigma, as potential career implications, perceptions of weakness or not being “mission ready”, and the notion of “I can handle it on my own,” create barriers to care for some service members.
The military continues to work to dismantle the stigma of mental health. In recent years, training programs among military leadership, an increase of mental health care provider staff, and educational campaigns on mental health have all aided in decreasing stigma. But there is still work to be done. Read on for ideas to consider when engaging with military service members regarding mental health:
- Military culture plays a big part. Servicemembers are conditioned to be strong, resilient and mission-ready. “Invisible” mental health disorders can present more subtly than more “visible” physical ailments, and therefore might be considered less serious or severe. Understanding this cultural conflict while discussing the benefits of mental health care can be helpful.
- Words matter. The language we use can help fuel or diffuse stigma. Labels with negative connotations encourage stigma. Putting the person first – “mentally ill” becomes “an individual living with mental illness”, for example – is a way to minimize labeling that can contribute to a more positive perception of mental health.
- Approach with empathy. The above-mentioned barriers to care can be monumental. Seeking to understand what might be holding a particular service member back from accessing mental health help could help break down those barriers and create a path to treatment specific to that service member’s needs.
Below are some helpful resources with information geared toward decreasing the stigma around mental health and the military. As Focused Solutions continues efforts to shatter the stigma around mental health in the military, we look forward to a time when seeking mental health help will be as unremarkable as going for an annual physical.
- The Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PCHoE)
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- The Military Health System website (Mil)
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