The Stigma of seeking mental health and PTSD

I said I would write a blog a day until Veteran’s Day.  Well, I have a few minutes to crank out the post for today and keep on pace.

I am pretty frank about seeing my therapist.  When I tell people (read my civilian coworkers) I am a Veteran who served in Iraq and I sought the help of therapists upon returning home, I usually get one of two reactions. One, the listener doesn’t even bat an eye and listens to me prattle on about this or that. Two, they nod and say, “Of course you did, that makes complete sense. I can’t image what you went through.”

I wish newly returning Veterans could see or hear those reactions from civilians more often. What would be even better, is if we could heard it from more of our own “kind”. I would be curious to find out a comparison between civilians and the armed forces on the percentage of population in therapy. I imagine the closer you get to the tip of the spear, the more disproportionate the numbers will be. Though, I do not think this is a problem or stigma solely limited to the Armed Forces.

I think the stigma lies out in the civilian world too. If you talk to my Mom, she will tell you I ask her to see a therapist on average once a month. She has yet to take me up on my advice. Still, the difference between my Mom not seeing a therapist and me not seeing a therapist have drastic differences in the impact on our lives. There were plenty of months were I lived session to session. My mood, creativity and energy all swung high and low from day to day and were only normalized by meeting with my therapist.  For a returning Veteran this can be the difference between a successful readjustment and taking their own life.

The number that touted by Veterans advocate groups is still 22 Veteran’s a day commit suicide. That number is still staggering. Through it all, I keep returning to the idea that removing the stigma of seeking help from a mental health professional is the most significant blocker to reversing this trend.

Ok.  Four posts down, Six days left and I owe you seven.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

9 thoughts on “The Stigma of seeking mental health and PTSD

  1. Eric Balough

    As a company commander, when we addressed issues of mental health and suicide, I would tell my guys about my therapy and the medication I was taking.
    I was very public about this because I wanted to do everything I could to break that stigma.
    About a year later, I had a Soldier who was turned over to my custody because he deserted. My initial inclination was to throw the book at him and write him off, but that little voice in the back of my mind was telling me that no just decides to go AWOL. After digging, I found that he tried seeking counseling when got to Fort Riley, and was given the standard infantry answer, “suck it up.”
    When the battalion got orders to go back to Iraq, he freaked out and left because the idea of returning to Iraq was too much for him. This all happened in 2005.
    For the next three years, he paid for his own therapy, became better adjusted and turned himself in to clear his name.
    As it turns out, I went from looking at a BCD-Special for him to recommending a Field Grade Article 15 and an OTH.
    My decision to exercise judgement, prudence, and mercy was not well recieved by the gung-ho crowd of the battlion. However, the madness has to stop somewhere. I’d like to think that some of my Soldiers, who are mostly all NCOs and young officers now, learned to tell their folks that it is okay to seek help.
    At any rate, I am able to sleep at night knowing that I didn’t destroy someone’s life just because that’s what I was “supposed to do”. And maybe, in some small measure, brought some healing to a man that was hurting, broken, and willing to risk everything to keep his demons away.
    Thanks for the post Mikey.

  2. mikeypiro

    Eric you have quite a challenge ahead of you. I certainly do not envy the position you are in either. One of the struggles I had was trying to balance the need to tap into raw emotion for motivation and how that need conflicted with trying to be less anxious, less angry, and more caring. I knew something was wrong with me when I mercilessly handed over a small boy who hit me in the head with a rock to his father who subsequently beat him in front of me and shrugged it off. There was not much room for deep reflection while also maintaining sharp reflexes in split-second decision-making with great consequences. I applaud you for using the scalpel when you could have used the broadsword. Keep fighting the good fight.

  3. Jai

    Eric, i’m currently reading a book by Joe Glenton called ‘Soldier Box’. He is a British soldier who went AWOL after being ordered for a second tour to Afghanistan. I think he could’ve used a Commander like yourself who would be willing to look at the bigger picture and have mercy. Thank you for being a responsible and compassionate person. The military needs more soldiers like you.

  4. Bryan

    Public perception on this issue is really difficult, I think, because it doesn’t just play into the drink water drive on mentailty, but plays into a larger perspective on what being a male is and does — which is pretty sad. Females can and do have PTSD, but what dominates the conversation always either directly focuses on, or has an underlying subtext of, the male perspective. I think, somehow, we need to embrace the fact that, male or female, the human mind is not designed to experience certain sudden or prolonged instances of trauma and that no, you are not any less of a man or woman for having problems with what you experienced.

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  6. K.Chen

    I am only a civilian, but my response would be slightly more nuanced. I would actually be more impressed upon hearing that a veteran had sought therapy, because I know that it is a major uphill battle to get anyone into that office.

    Likewise, while social stigma is a big part, many, if not most mental illness and distress compromise the thinking mechanisms that give us the perspective to go get help. The stigma makes that problem a lot worse, but I would say it takes not just removing the obstacles, but actively engaging veterans (and civilians) who need or could want therapy.

  7. GM52246

    Congrats! You just got linked by Andrew Sullivan.
    I’m a civilian–I go to therapy and it’s been immensely helpful. I’m supportive of anyone who chooses to go, but particularly those who’ve been in combat– I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through something like that. Good for you for being open about it; I hope it encourages others to go.

  8. Louis D.

    I am a crisis worker in a hospital emergency room in Evanston Illinois. Thank you for this post. I hope in brings more in need in to see me that I can do my small part in helping them.

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