A new study suggests that active duty military personnel are seeing private practice therapists instead of using DoD provided services because they don’t trust the system.
For years, counselors in private practice have known that active duty military personnel much prefer accessing mental health services outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) as opposed to going through the system.
The reasons are plentiful, including legitimate fears of being stigmatized and concerns over retaliation. In my work as a counselor, I’ve had several Marines and Army personnel share exactly those concerns in private.
Well, a newly released study published in Military Medicine may help us to better understand what’s going on. In short, many active duty service members think the current system for accessing care is unresponsive. Moreover, a large percentage don’t trust command.
Highlights of Research
The goal of the study, conducted by a team of researchers based at the University of New Mexico [plus Oregon, Texas, and Massachusetts] sought to better understand why troops were taking the civilian route for help with their mental health needs as opposed to the DoD.
To make an assessment, they collected data from 233 participants between the years of 2013 and 2016. Active duty military members were recruited from the United States, Afghanistan, South Korea, and Germany.
According to their findings, here’s what they discovered:
- Nearly half (48%) had suicidal thoughts
- 72% met criteria for clinical depression
- 62% could be diagnosed with PTSD
- 20% met criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- 25% had symptoms of panic disorder
- 27% struggled with alcohol abuse issues
One of the most troubling findings of the study showed that 38% of respondents indicated a mistrust that their needs would be met.
There were also general themes that popped up during interviews regarding why active duty troops were going outside of the DoD to receive help.
- Insufficient and/or unresponsive services (93%)
- Concerns about seeking out services due to reprisal (56%)
- A mistrust of command (48%)
- Experiencing some form of Military Sexual Trauma (22%).
Common experiences included feeling guilty for injuring or killing someone. Concerns about the affordability of outside mental health services also came up in the narrative interviews.
Guy Counseling spoke to Dr. Greg Harms, a Chicago based psychologist who shared the following observations about the study:
“I’m not surprised at all that troops are going the private route. A lot of them are afraid of being stigmatized or retaliated against. This topic comes up a lot during therapy,” says Harms.
The study’s authors argue in the conclusion of their research that their findings demonstrate “substantial unmet needs” among active duty military members. They also stress the value of private (civilian) based services not linked to current military goals.