Stigma, American military personnel and mental health care: challenges from Iraq and Afghanistan

Michael Schreiber, Geoffry Phillips McEnany
Journal of Mental Health 2015, 24 (1): 54-9

BACKGROUND: Since 2001, more than 2.5 million United States military personnel have been deployed for combat. Over one million have served multiple deployments. Combat generally involved repeated exposure to highly traumatic events. Personnel were also victims of military sexual trauma (MST), a major risk factor for psychiatric illness. Most survivors do not seek or receive mental health care. Stigma is one of the main barriers to that care.

AIMS: To explore the impact of stigma on personnel with psychiatric illness, and suggest some innovative ways to potentially reduce stigma and improve care.

METHODS: Cinahl and PubMed databases were searched from 2001 to 2014.

RESULTS: Anonymity, the use of non-stigmatizing language, peer-to-peer, and stigma-reduction programs help military personnel receive mental health care. Technology offers the opportunity for effective and appropriate education and treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: Although stigma is formidable, several innovative services are available or being developed for military victims of trauma. Commitment of resources for program development and further research to explore which interventions offer the best clinical outcomes are needed to increase efforts to combat stigma and ensure quality care.

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