According to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), approximately 30 percent of U.S. reserve and active military personnel—roughly 730,000 women and men—returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have mental health conditions requiring treatment, including PTSD and depression. However, less than 50 percent receive the care they need.
Why? The Hidden Culture
Within American military ranks is a complicated division regarding mental health. Regardless of how many resources are available through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)—including an entire portal dedicated to many aspects of veterans’ mental health—these brave warriors face tough mental illness battles.
One primary reason is pervasive hypermasculinity in the armed forces. This trait is defined as a learned behavior based on the perception that certain characteristics are either masculine or feminine, and this impacts mental health. As one example, researcher Elizabeth Neilson notes that “a new assessment from investigators at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston shows that common masculinity traits including the suppression of emotions, stoicism, and self-reliance were associated with heightened PTSD severity.”
More About Hypermasculinity
Other mental health conditions are also worsened by hypermasculinity, such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Complicated grief and loss
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic brain injury
In military culture, hypermasculinity—also sometimes referred to as toxic masculinity—prevents people from speaking up about issues involving mental illness and seeking treatment. This has a grave impact not only on military personnel, but also on their partners and families.
Reluctance & Discouragement
Even while the VA mental health site stresses confidentiality and does not require identifying information to direct a user to resources, there’s still fear of career retribution, being considered “less than” or lacking “toughness,” and other concerns. Some research indicates that military personnel even feel “discouraged to seek treatment.” Men in particular struggle with these perceptions and often suffer additional health problems as a result.
A lack of acceptance for and access to safe, effective mental health treatment sparks dire consequences. According to NCBH, “more than 22 veterans die by suicide every day.”
Resources for Veterans to Get Proper Mental Health Treatment
The most critical aspect for helping veterans with mental illness is to reduce the stigma surrounding it, even among the closed ranks of the military. It’s essential that treating mental health conditions is considered equal to caring for physical health.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers these tips:
- Talk openly about mental health.
- Educate yourself and others.
- Be conscious of language.
- Show compassion for individuals with mental illness.
- Choose empowerment over shame.
- Be honest with treatment.
- Let the media know when its approach is stigmatizing.
- Don’t harbor self-stigma.
But when there’s already a stigmatizing culture in the armed forces, how can you break beyond those barriers? Fortunately, there are others leading the way.
This organization, with the motto, “Reaching Out is a Sign of Strength, was founded in 2009, and “promotes a culture of support for psychological health by encouraging the military community to reach out for help whether coping with the daily stresses of military life, or concerns like depression, anxiety and PTSD.” The program offers a live chat, resources for care, and a direct link to 24/7 assistance through the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE).
An initiative of the PHCoE, features numerous articles that address specific concerns of veteran mental health, as well as books, blogs, and other information to help form a more proactive mental health community within the military.
Military Spouse Advocacy Network
This organization strives to provide support and connection to military spouses and families to help themselves and their active service members. The site has a wealth of guides, toolkits, educational videos, and specific mental health and wellness resources.
This acronym stands for Families OverComing Under Stress. The program “provides resilience training to military children, families, and couples. It teaches practical skills to help families and couples overcome common challenges related to a military life.” From communication and emotional regulation to problem-solving and managing trauma and stress reminders, people learn a variety of coping mechanisms. The site provides answers to some of the top questions service members have about the program, as well as their partners.
Mental Health First Aid
This program focuses on easing mental health concerns “encountered by veterans, military members, and their families.” Its website provides self-help strategies and other tools, as well as a way for military personnel to share stories to help comrades and the public gain a better understanding of the importance of mental health awareness.
Lifeline for Vets
Providing immediate support to “veterans and their families who are enduring a crisis or who have a critical need for help,” Lifeline’s toll-free number—888-777-4443—allows service members to talk with veteran volunteers who not only understand what they’re going through but also provide the necessary fellowship to find help for mental health, jobs, housing, and more.
You’ll find an extensive page addressing topics of concern and listing resources for veterans and active service members, including confidential counselors through Military One Source: 800-342-9647
Let the Experts at Cottonwood Tucson Help
If you or a loved one need professional inpatient therapy for mental health treatment, our board-certified medical team has the compassion and the skills to put you on the path to wellness. With innovative treatments such as EMDR for veterans and specific attention focused on trauma and PTSD and mood disorders, we honor both your service and well-being with individualized care.