The Doctor Is In – Strength in the Face of Stigma

Brigadier General W. Bryan Gamble, M.D. Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity

Service members returning from deployment face many challenges, including the invisible wounds of mental health conditions. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to emphasize the seriousness of these injuries and remind people that the earlier a mental health condition is treated, the less damage it does.

Unfortunately, many service members believe there is a stigma to seeking care for their mental health needs.  They may feel a personal aversion or fear facing discrimination or harassment for seeking treatment. Much of this stigma is based on myth, not reality. Some examples are:

Myth: Seeking mental health care will hurt your career

Reality: Seeking mental health care will ensure you get the appropriate care delivered by trained professionals, and help keep your career on track.  Mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to revoke or deny a security clearance.

Myth: You will lose the trust of your unit if you admit to mental distress

Reality: Your unit will trust you more once you seek help and receive care. Taking responsibility for your health shows that you are reliable.  Without care, you may become a liability to those around you.

Myth: Needing mental health care is a sign of weakness

Reality: It takes real strength and courage to admit you have a problem and seek help. Post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and other types of psychological conditions are due to changes in the brain and body caused by life experiences or physical trauma, and require medical care.

The downsides of not seeking help are serious. Untreated mental health conditions can cause your job performance and family life to suffer. Not receiving care can lead to substance abuse, increased stress at home and a higher risk of suicide.

If you recognize any signs of a mental health condition in yourself, your family or a friend, speak up. The Defense Center of Excellence Outreach Center is an excellent resource for service members and their families to learn about the mental health services available to them. Military OneSource is another resource to help you find care.

Active duty service members may receive mental health care at any military treatment facility without a referral. For civilian care you need a referral. Other TRICARE beneficiaries don’t need a referral or prior authorization for the first eight visits. For more information on TRICARE’s mental health coverage, go to www.tricare.mil/mentalhealthappt.

Just like any other injury or illness, mental health conditions require medical treatment as soon as possible. Asking for help is hard, and can require great courage.   Overcoming that challenge takes personal resolve and strength. For examples of real service members who had the courage to ask for help and the care they needed to maintain success in their personal and professional lives, visit www.realwarriors.net.

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