Military Mental Health: Problem Recognition, Treatment-Seeking, and Barriers

Laura Bein, Marquette University


Substantial numbers of military troops are serving overseas in military operations and are returning home with elevated reports of psychological symptoms; however, a treatment gap exists between those reporting mental health problems and those receiving appropriate treatment. Stigma has been cited as a potential barrier to treatment-seeking, although few studies distinguish between perceived and public stigma or between stigma for having a mental illness versus that for seeking treatment.

In the present study, Army National Guard soldiers returning from deployment to Iraq were asked to complete questionnaires assessing psychological symptoms, as well as reports of perceived stigma from self and others for admitting the presence of a mental illness and for seeking treatment. Soldiers also reported the likelihood that they would seek treatment and indicated perceived barriers to treatment.

Results showed that respondents reported more perceived stigma from self and military others than from civilian others for most stigma items (both for admitting a mental illness and seeking treatment). A combination of demographic and stigma variables were found to be predictive of a higher reported likelihood of seeking treatment. Veterans also endorsed a number of barriers that may prevent them from seeking treatment in addition to concerns about stigma.

Perceptions of both self- and public stigma appear to be associated with a lower likelihood of admitting and seeking treatment for a mental illness among soldiers, although much is unknown about additional factors contributing to the treatment gap. Further research clarifying these additional factors is necessary for the improved access to psychological care that may be needed by a substantial number of military personnel returning from deployment.