DoD Seeks to Eliminate Stigma for Seeking Mental Health Care

The Defense Department wants service members to know there’s no stigma in seeking mental health care, a DoD Health Affairs official said here today.

“We want troops and their families to know DoD has great emphasis on gaining access to mental health care, reducing barriers, and following where the research goes to provide them the best possible care,” said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Michael J. Colston, psychiatrist and director of mental health policy, health services policy and oversight.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, said Colston, who noted that anxiety and depression are extremely common mental health issues.

He also related how the department has sought to improve service members’ access to mental health care.

Reducing Stigma

The White House, DoD leadership and partnering agencies such as the Veterans Affairs Department and Health and Human Services have for years battled to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care, and their efforts are paying off, Colston said.

“Stigma reduction is something you need to work on every day,” he noted. “We work with our partners every week, thinking of ways we can enhance access to care and to make psychological, mental health and substance abuse care are totally on par with other forms of medical care.”

Access is Everywhere

Mental health care access is “everywhere,” Colston said. Service members and their families can talk to a primary care physician or go to a specialty care clinic. And mental health professionals are embedded during deployments, he added.

As a psychiatrist deployed to Kuwait, Colston said he worked with psychiatric nurses, a psychologist, social workers and psychiatric technicians.

“We’ve got easy access to care, no matter where you are,” he said.

More Mental Health Professionals

During more than a decade of conflict, DoD has quadrupled its number of mental health professionals to help active-duty and transitioning service members and their families, Colston said.

Today, some 25 percent of active-duty troops seek mental health care the year before they leave the service, he said. And we are ready to help folks transition” back to civilian life, he added. DoD is very focused on getting good, evidence-based mental care assistance help troops in need by any possible portal, Colston said.

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