Combating the Stigma: Military Encourages Help-Seeking Behaviors
Military deployment affects everyone it touches—servicemembers, veterans, families and health care providers. A servicemember’s life may be profoundly impacted by the experiences they have while deployed, and he or she may come home as a very different person than when they left.
For those servicemembers and veterans returning home after combat and dealing with psychological health concerns, reintegration can be challenging. An important message to convey is that treatment resources are available and that they work. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) provides resources to servicemembers, veterans, families, and health care providers that are designed to support the processes of resilience, recovery, and reintegration.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other combat-related health challenges led to the establishment of eight blue ribbon panels and commissions in 2007. More than 400 key recommendations were generated; many pertaining to prevention, detection, assessment, treatment, and longitudinal care of servicemembers with psychological health and TBI conditions. During the same year the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health recommended that the department dispel stigma by implementing an anti-stigma public education campaign.
Thus, one of DCoE’s most widely recognized initiatives, the Real Warriors Campaign, was launched in May 2009. The campaign is a national multimedia public education initiative designed to encourage help-seeking behavior among servicemembers and veterans coping with the invisible wounds of war.
The campaign features the stories of real warriors who have had the strength to reach out for care and who are now proving through example that reaching out makes a real difference. This is done through a variety of channels, including a campaign website (http://www.realwarriors.net ) that features video profiles, public service announcements, and informational articles. Additionally, the website provides 24-hour access to trained health resource consultants who can provide information and resources related to care and treatment through live online chat at http://www.realwarriors.net/livechat .
The Real Warriors Campaign relays the message that warriors should be physically and psychologically fit to be at peak performance. In the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team surveys, warriors have consistently voiced concerns that seeking psychological health care or treatment would negatively impact their military careers, make them look weak to their peers and commanders, and/or cause them to lose the trust and respect of the command. The campaign aims to combat this mindset. The goal of Real Warriors is to assure servicemembers that reaching out is a sign of strength that benefits the servicemember, their family, their unit, and their service.
In addition to the Real Warriors Campaign, DCoE offers a number of resources designed to educate, inform, and support servicemembers, veterans, their families, and health care providers.
The DCoE Outreach Center offers a toll-free call center dedicated to psychological health and traumatic brain injury. The center can be reached domestically and internationally, 24/7, 365 days a year. It is staffed by specially trained Health Resource Consultants who hold advanced degrees. A live chat function is also available. The DCoE Outreach Center is available at 866-966-1020, firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://www.dcoe.health.mil/Families/Help.aspx.
The inTransition program (http://www.health.mil/InTransition) helps to provide continuity of mental health care for servicemembers who are relocating or are returning to civilian life. Personal coaches work with servicemembers to connect them with their new providers, empower them with tools to continue making healthy life choices, and provide general coaching throughout the transition period. The program was developed in response to a recommendation from the Department of Defense’s Mental Health Task Force, and was instituted by the Department of Defense per the Health Affairs Policy Memorandum from January 12, 2010.
The afterdeployment.org website (http://www.afterdeployment.org ) provides a variety of wellness resources for the military community and focuses primarily on mental/emotional health. Topics include PTSD, depression, anger, anxiety, mild TBI, sleep disorders, substance abuse, stigma, and resilience.
DCoE Monthly Webinars feature speakers, information, and resources on various topics related to psychological health and TBI. For example, the webinar conducted in April 2010 focused on sexual assault in the military and garnered over 450 RSVPs from health professionals, military leaders, and other key stakeholders.
The Mild TBI Pocket Guide is an all-encompassing quick-reference publication on the assessment, treatment, and management of patients with mild TBI and related symptoms. This is an easy-to-use guide for primary care and other providers at military treatment facilities, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities or other civilian health care facilities.
DCoE’s mission and initiatives are in part carried out by its six component centers. Each has its own focus; however, their joint goal is to maximize opportunities for warriors and families to thrive through a collaborative global network which promotes resilience, recovery, and reintegration for those coping with PH and TBI.
The DCoE component centers include the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, which is committed to TBI prevention, treatment, and education; the Center for Deployment Psychology, which trains military and civilian psychologists and other mental health professionals; the Deployment Health Clinical Center, which provides caring assistance and medical advocacy related to deployment health; the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, which works to provide knowledge, leadership, and applications for preparing for, responding to and recovering from the consequences of disaster and trauma; the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, which primarily develops, explores, and deploys new and existing technologies for PH and TBI; and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a center of hope, healing, discovery, and education that researches, diagnoses and treats military personnel and veterans suffering from mild TBI and PH issues.
DCoE also partners with the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a national network of federal, military, and civilian agencies, community leaders, advocacy groups, clinical experts, and academic institutions to establish best practices and quality standards for the treatment of PH and TBI. For more information, and for additional resources, visit http://www.dcoe.health.mil.