Stigma for seeking mental health services is decreasing

| October 22, 2010 | 0 Comments

Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Openly discussing the damage of the social stigma for Soldiers in need of mental health services is a step toward eradicating the problem, said an Army suicide-prevention leader, Oct. 12. 

Fear of stigma and career repercussions are top reasons Soldiers are reluctant to seek mental health assistance, said Col. Chris Philbrick, deputy director of the Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction Council and Task Force.

“The issue of stigma in the Army is real,” Philbrick said. While the culture of the Army seems to be changing in regards to mental health, the ‘tough guy’ mentality has not disappeared, he added.

Today, Philbrick explained, Soldiers are expected to deal with traumatic events and drive on. While that attitude is still necessary to accomplish missions, he said, leaders now recognize that some Soldiers need to get help in order to successfully return to their units. 

He also reported that improved resilience and anti-suicide educational materials are making a difference. 

“We’re no longer providing you with PowerPoint slides and saying, ‘have a nice day,’” Philbrick said, of the Army’s previous efforts to promote suicide prevention. “It’s not effective.”

New realistic training videos, resilience classes for basic trainees, and endorsement by senior Army leadership to eradicate the problem have heightened suicide awareness for all Soldiers, Philbrick said. 

He also encouraged Soldiers to continue seeking help up to the next level of their chain of command, until they get the assistance they need. 

Soldiers and their families have often reported that they didn’t know where to turn when in need of mental health services, Philbrick noted. 

“I believe that if you get turned away at the first door, go knock at the next one, or if need be, kick it down,” he said, encouraging Soldiers to continue seeking help. 

Soldiers and their family members have many places to turn when in distress: a supervisor, commander, chaplain, behavioral health services or a hospital. 

Philbrick stressed the importance of first-line supervisors and explained that they play a major role in spotting changes in Soldiers’ behavior. 

With the Army’s suicide rate at about 21 Soldiers per 100,000, the ratio is slightly higher than the national average. However, Philbrick believes the concentration on suicide prevention, and open discourse on the topic among senior Army leaders, will help decrease both suicide rates and the stigma of mental illness. 

“We believe that the Army’s adjustments will continue to move the Army forward,” he said. 

Category: Army News Service, News

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