I have been employed by the Army for more than 39 years. During my career, I’ve seen Soldiers be ridiculed because they went on sick call or singled out because they had problems. I know the frustrations leaders face when they are trying to complete a mission and they have Soldiers who are unavailable for duty.
This issue, like most, has two sides. Soldiers need to be supported if they are having problems, but the mission still needs to be accomplished. Since September is Suicide Prevention Month, I’d like to talk about “Stigma.”
Stigma is defined as: a mark of shame or discredit. Soldiers are proud. They fight to keep from bringing shame or discredit to themselves, their unit or the Army. If Soldiers equate seeking help for personal problems with being shameful, then they cannot allow themselves to seek help.
Many Soldiers will not seek help for personal problems because they fear how they will be perceived by others in their unit. They will try to find a solution that will not rely on others’ assistance. Sometimes the reason people become suicidal is they are afraid to reach out for help because of what others will think about them.
Soldiers face highly stressful situations; including deployment, combat exposure and reintegration. The rates of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and mild traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, have increased dramatically since 2003.
Multiple long-term separations from Families lead to increased Family problems. Soldiers are using alcohol to get to sleep or to self medicate. Suicide has increased to the point that the Army”Stood Down” for an entire day last September just to address suicide prevention. However, many Soldiers are still afraid to seek out treatment for their difficulties. Stigma is a barrier to seeking treatment. If you talk to leaders, they realize this.
The Department of Defense, or DoD, has recognized that stigma is a major problem in the armed forces, and as a result, every branch of the military is taking steps to combat the stigma associated with mental health problems and seeking out treatment.
In order to limit fear that report of psychological difficulties will negatively impact a security clearance, DoD no longer requires people to report if they have sought out mental health care for combat-related reasons. In addition, high ranking military personnel are sharing their experiences with PTSD and the treatment they received. DoD is also attempting to convey that it’s normal to experience stress as a result of combat-related experiences.
Yet some still hold on to those attitudes of people being weak if they are having problems. As a leader or battle buddy, Soldiers who care about Soldiers have to do whatever they can to get help to others if there are any indications they need it.
If you are a Soldier in need of assistance, it is important to seek out help. Services are available, and you have a right as well as a responsibility to take care of yourself. Don’t let others shame you into not taking care of yourself. Contact the agency that is available to help you with problems. Others can’t help if they don’t know you are having a problem.
Those with questions about how to find help should call 533.2071 or visit the Army Substance Abuse Program staff, Building 22414, 434 Christy Ave.