Mental health Is still health. The military has more stringent standards to measure and enforce physical health than any other entity in the world. Members of every branch are constantly being evaluated for physical health and fitness through physical health assessments, constant physical training, and fitness tests. PFTs are little less than a staple in military life and culture.
Service members are encouraged, sorry- required, to undergo consistent yearly physicals, meet health standards and requirements, and are provided significant resources to tend to ailments, injuries, and physical health on the whole.
But when the conversation turns from physical to mental health, the tone changes. It shouldn’t, but it does. Mental health is health, so it should be treated with the same rigor and importance as physical health, right?
We sit down with Dr. Holly Bechard in this episode of Mental Hell and Wellness to talk about the "unwiring process" when military members transition into civilian life. But while that process is always a challenge and a focus for veterans, addressing what more can be done within the military to acknowledge and treat mental health at the source is every bit as imperative.
In their 2017 annual report, the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention (DoDSER) reported that there were 1,397 non-fatal suicide attempts by active-duty military service members, and that over 50% of those individuals who attempted suicide had seen a health care professional within the previous 90 days. This means that more than half of the members that attempted suicide were in front of a medical professional and either did not feel comfortable discussing their struggles or, worse, expressed they were having issues and the right steps were not taken to combat them.
But assuming that a medical professional receiving a report regarding a struggle with mental health would take the right action steps, the first scenario is troubling. It shows that there is a severe lack of trust in the military’s mental health initiatives and continues to demonstrate that service members as a whole are not yet comfortable discussing their struggles with mental health.
The DoD requires mental health professionals to disclose a military member’s mental health records to their chain of command if the reason for treatment falls under the DoD’s guidelines. Reasons that would prompt disclosure of a member’s mental health treatments include harm to self, harm to others and, wait for it, harm to mission.
Read that again.
The term harm to mission is too broad to possibly narrow down a consistent interpretation. This entire concept destroys comfort levels regarding reporting mental health struggles as it, in a very real way, puts service members’ fates and ability to continue serving in the hands of a chain of command that are in no way mental health professionals. Unlike with physical health where if you have a fever, break a bone, or suffer any type of physical injury, you go to Doc, he puts you on quarters while you heal, and then you return to work.
So why are we not treating mental health the same way? Diagnose, address, treat. This idea that service members should be hiding their mental struggles to preserve their careers, or their place of respect in their command, or their reputation, or any of it, is leading to overwhelmingly high rates of depression and anxiety, higher suicide rates, higher divorce rates, and an overall skyrocketing of psychological issues plaguing the military community.
The process needs to change and it needs to change fast. The mental health crisis facing activity-duty service members and veterans has long been too substantial to continue to ignore it.
Mental Hell and Wellness Series:
Introducing Mental Hell and Wellness: The Path Out of Hell
The Why Behind The Mental Hell and Wellness Series
Awareness Isn't Enough
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 1
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 2
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 3
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 4
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 5
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 6
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 7
Breakdown: Lauren Rich Ep 8
Interview: Dr. Abby Cobey
Interview: Dr. Nancy Lin
Interview: Dr. Michael Terry
Interview: Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
Interview: John David, Retired Navy Corpsman