Author: Ingrid Herrera-Yee
Photo credit: Flickr user Len Matthews
The issue of mental health in the military is one that is often difficult to talk about. Sure, the experts talk, our leaders talk, but what about our service members and their families? Mental health in the military is an important issue to discuss. Those affected are often the ones who live in silence. Mental illness exacts a real toll, and the stigma exists nowhere more distressingly than within our own community.
When you look at the number of people affected my mental illness, the numbers are staggering. Overall, mental illnesses are now more common than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. One in every five families, and over 60 million Americans, are affected at some point in their lifetime by mental illness.
What is different for our community, the military community, is the way in which mental illness is viewed. Mental illness as a whole is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with a mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This often prevents them from seeking out the services they need.
Unfortunately when mental illness hits our families, they are often reluctant to seek treatment as well. They wonder: Will it affect their spouse’s career? Who will know? What if he ends up getting med boarded out? Some spouses are afraid to admit to any mental health issues for fear they will burden their already taxed service member with their own issues. As a result, their struggles become private, their symptoms hidden.
Our military families have very real needs when it comes to mental health. This is a call to action. A call to our leaders and our advocates to push for increased and improved services for our families. Our community needs help. Here are some ways in which our military families and our community as a whole could be supported in their struggles with their mental health:
- Eliminate the barriers in connecting families with mental health resources.
- Incorporate best practices when treating military service members and families.
- Provide a seamless transition of care from duty station to duty station.
- Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
- Start comprehensively tracking the suicide rate among military family members.
- Increase/improve education and reduce mental health stigma.
- Support the transition from deployment to reintegration AND the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
- Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured (mentally or physically) and provide support for Caregivers.
Educate yourself on the mental health issues that impact your community and advocate for increased and improved services for all. Only by tackling this together can we reduce the stigma and begin to help the number of families affected by mental illness within our community.
It’s time to end the silence and to reduce the stigma around mental illness.