Leading by Example

May 2, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Posted in Mental Health, Military | 1 Comment

Yesterday’s post focused on concerns about being denied a security clearance as a significant barrier in accessing care for mental health needs among OIF and OEF veterans. As I said in the post, three of the top five barriers to care for these veterans are clearly linked to institutional policies, military culture or both. The change in wording on the security clearance form is intended to address one of these barriers, and is likely to do as much as is reasonable to negate it as a valid concern.

Two of the other top five barriers to care were: “It could harm my career” (endorsed by 44%) and “My coworkers would have less confidence in me if they found out” (endorsed by 38%). A new initiative announced by the Pentagon today looks like it has the potential to address both of these barriers.

WASHINGTON — Senior military officers could be talking about their emotional struggles on YouTube and MySpace this year, in a Pentagon campaign to urge troops into counseling for wartime mental problems.

The campaign isn’t operational yet, but the quotes included in this story make me think that senior military leadership just might “get it” after all.

“It’s time for leaders of all stripes to step forward and lead by example, when it comes to mental health issues,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen told a Pentagon press conference.

“You can’t expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won’t do it,” he said.

and

“I’ve talked with a number of (senior leaders) already and we already have folks who are standing up and ready to come forward and tell their story,” said Col. Lorree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist who heads a new center for psychological health and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“We can talk about how important it is,” she said. “Ultimately, troops and families — they want to see leaders walking that talk.”

If implemented effectively, and in a manner consistent with what I read about today’s briefing, this campaign could have a significant impact. First, by having military personnel in leadership positions share their own stories about mental health issues the stigma of seeking help is likely to be reduced. It’s one thing to have a psychologist or psychiatrist say “Hey it’s OK to get a little help”, but the same phrase has a totally different meaning when uttered by a fellow combat veteran. In a perfect world it wouldn’t, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Having people in leadership positions (hopefully they will be smart enough to involve a mix of NCOs and Officers) will likely help to reduce concerns about what co-workers might think.

What’s really important though is what happens next. If in the next few years after these public testimonials none of these individuals are promoted, there will be problems. It will make going public (and getting help) look like a very bad career choice. However, if at least some of these individuals are promoted it might make veterans start to think that a harmful effect on their career isn’t a predetermined outcome if they seek mental health care.

I’m very interested to see how this campaign pans out.

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1 Comment »

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  1. I think that they can say it won’t affect your career until they are blue in the face, but in the end every unit, company, platoon, is different, and regardless of what is “promised” I think that there will always be a stigma attached to it and repercussions to pay.

    And Gunner has to be half dead before he can get a doctor’s appointment and time off to go–would they really let him off to see someone to “talk” to?

    Not saying it shouldn’t be available or utilized, because I am sure that there are lots of people that would benefit. It could also be Gunner’s MOS that affects my view as well.

    Who knows if I even made any sense. Lack of sleep and spending the day with a classroom full of children, I am feeling kind of loopy!


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