The stigma of seeking mental health in the military

According to Thom Shanker and Richard A. Oppel Jr., the military’s top forces, have a drastically higher suicide rate than the rest of active-duty military. In the past two and half years alone, 49 Special Operations members have killed themselves, more than the preceding 5 years. The numbers are alarming, but unfortunately not surprising. These men are carrying out some of the most top secret and dangerous missions, most of he time leaving and coming back again without anyone even hearing about the mission. These men are at a higher risk of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) because of the high levels of stress in the jobs.

Unfortunately, the stigma of seeking mental health is something that these men feel like they can’t do. They are suppose to be the biggest and the baddest there is and seeking mental health help is just not acceptable. They are taught to fight through injury and remain stoic about pain, physical or psychological. The Commanders of these special operations units are now openly pushing their troops to seek help but they know that the battle for mental health is only just beginning.

Congress has recently gotten involved with the matter and The House Armed Services Committee, recently voted to shift $23 million to therapies for brain injury, PTSD, and suicide prevention for Special Operations forces. As these commandos are retiring their struggles are expected to become more apparent. Captain Tom Chaby, a former SEAL Team Five commanders said, “We physically crush special operators during their careers, and when they retire they are broken. We broke these guys. We need to do our best to send them back into the civilian sector as whole as possible.

Many of these men don’t even realize how much war has scarred them until several years later. These men also face troubling rates of broken marriages, alcoholism and other concerns. TBI’s aren’t just caused from huge explosions or traumatic events. Some are caused from the training itself. These men train in live fire exercises and even though it’s a controlled environment, the explosions are still real.

I most definitely think this is a credible source and it saddens me to think about all the suffering that can be prevented with the right programs. I will say that the stigma of being tough doesn’t just apply to commandos, it trickles all the way down the ranks, right down to the Private in boot camp.

Helpful Resources

Unfortunately, PTSD is a common problem among our service men and women. I was able to find multiple scholarly journals about the subject as well as plenty of newspaper and magazine articles. I’ve listed them below, clicking on the underlined article title will take you directly to the article.

Deployed soldiers’ reactions to exposure and medication treatments for PTSD

Reger, Greg M., et al. “Deployed Soldiers’ Reactions To Exposure And Medication Treatments For PTSD.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, And Policy 5.4 (2013): 309-316. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Associations of postdeployment PTSD symptoms with predeployment symptoms in Iraq-deployed Army soldiers.

MacDonald, Helen Z., et al. “Associations Of Postdeployment PTSD Symptoms With Predeployment Symptoms In Iraq-Deployed Army Soldiers.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, And Policy 5.5 (2013): 470-476. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Perceived organizational support, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and stigma in soldiers returning from combat.

Kelley, Christie L., et al. “Perceived Organizational Support, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, And Stigma In Soldiers Returning From Combat.” Psychological Services 11.2 (2014): 229-234. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Relationship adjustment, PTSD symptoms, and treatment utilization among coupled national Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq.

Meis, Laura A., et al. “Relationship Adjustment, PTSD Symptoms, And Treatment Utilization Among Coupled National Guard Soldiers Deployed To Iraq.” Journal Of Family Psychology 24.5 (2010): 560-567. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

The predictive validity of the PTSD checklist in a nonclinical sample of combat-exposed National Guard troops

Arbisi, Paul A., et al. “The Predictive Validity Of The PTSD Checklist In A Nonclinical Sample Of Combat-Exposed National Guard Troops.” Psychological Assessment 24.4 (2012): 1034-1040. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

The structure of PTSD among two cohorts of returning soldiers: Before, during, and following deployment to Iraq.

Meis, Laura A., et al. “The Structure Of PTSD Among Two Cohorts Of Returning Soldiers: Before, During, And Following Deployment To Iraq.” Journal Of Abnormal Psychology 120.4 (2011): 807-818. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Posttraumatic stress disorder in the U.S. Warfighter: Sensitivity to punishment and antidepressant use contribute to decision making performance.

Dretsch, Michael N., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder In The U.S. Warfighter: Sensitivity To Punishment And Antidepressant Use Contribute To Decision-Making Performance.” Traumatology 19.2 (2013): 118-125. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Posttraumatic stress symptoms among National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq: Associations with parenting behaviors and couple adjustment

Gewirtz, Abigail H., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Among National Guard Soldiers Deployed To Iraq: Associations With Parenting Behaviors And Couple Adjustment.” Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology 78.5 (2010): 599-610. PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

Diagnostic accuracy of the Posttraumatic stress disorder checklist - civilian version in a representative military sample

Karstoft, Karen-Inge, et al. “Diagnostic Accuracy Of The Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist–Civilian Version In A Representative Military Sample.” Psychological Assessment 26.1 (2013): PsycARTICLES. Web. 15 June 2014.

War’s Elite Tough Guys, Hesitant to Seek Healing

Shanker, Thom and Oppel Jr., Richard A. “War’s Elite Tough Guys, Hesitant to Seek Healing.” The New York Times Company, 5 June 2014. Web. 15 June 2014.

Reintegration: What’s it all about?

     I came across a post titled "Post-deployment reintegration" written by a military wife, Laura Crawford, about how her family handled reintegration after her husband’s 8.5 month deployment.

     Laura talked about how she had attended a “Coming Home” meeting for spouses where she was able to get a better idea of reintegration may, or may not, look like for her family. I think a class that like would be FABULOUS for all military spouses to take, such a great idea!! She said that the class helped her to realize she needed to be open-minded and patient, something that we can all too easily forget about because we want things done the way we want them done, when we want them done.

     She says she let her husband play an observer role the first couple nights once he was home, which sounds like a great idea, but as a tired mom it would be difficult to go another few nights of doing it alone, when there really wasn’t a need. I understand that he’s been gone and might need some time to decompress, but realistically, he didn’t just leave Afghanistan the night before. It takes time to get back to the States and to be debriefed and check in equipment. Also, I don’t see a need for such a hands off approach if things hadn’t changed much while he was gone. I think it would be weird for kids to just see daddy sitting there watching them live their lives, also, I would assume he would be excited to get back into the swing of things. He missed those kids while he was gone and wants to love on them!! So, while the idea makes sense, it seems like there is a better solution. Maybe a happy medium, where you let him help a little, but don’t expect him to do it all???

     She also mentions that prior to that night she had only thought about the reintegration from her side, and only thinking about her feelings and expectations. That blows my mind!!!! When I think about reintegration I’ve mainly ONLY thought about the soldier. It seems selfish to me to only think about herself, and what we EXPECT things to be like when he gets home. I think it’s okay to have some expectations, but we need to be realistic in those.

     Reintegration isn’t just about him coming home and helping you put the kids to bed. How’s his mental state? What did he expect from her? What else can we expect from his return? I wish she would have wrote about that aspect of reintegration as well.