By Debbie Gregory.
The Army is in the process of overhauling its mental health services for its soldiers. Over the last several years, the Army has experimented with close to 200 different mental health programs. It is now committed to one that reduces the use of private psychiatric hospitals, while moving counseling teams out into its commands and expanding intensive mental health provisions at on-base medical facilities.
Over the last three years, the Army has recorded the highest level of PTSD diagnoses since the height of the Global War on Terror. Even though considerably less personnel are currently being sent to and from combat zones, the higher levels of PTSD diagnosis can be attributed to progress in the removal of the stigma of seeking help. But even with the progress that has been made, the Army estimates that close to half of soldiers who suffer from PTSD still aren’t seeking the help they need.
The Army’s new practice will embed counseling teams within individual units throughout the force. This strategy is intended to further work to remove the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues. The new program calls for counseling teams to be readily accessible at or near the soldiers’ barracks, brigade headquarters, dining facilities, and other places they frequent, instead of only at medical facilities that are too often a great distance from where soldiers live and work. The Army feels that giving soldiers the ability to pop-in when they need help would make it more likely that the resources would be utilized.
But the overhaul has another benefit, besides convenience. Because these mental health teams will be embedded within each battalion, the counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers will already know more about where the soldier’s service has taken them, what their role is, and more specific stresses that they have faced. The counseling teams will also have an established relationship with command leadership, making communication easier for cases of soldiers in crisis.
This communication between counselors and the command can be viewed as both beneficial and controversial. The embedded behavioral health program requires psychiatrists to meet with commanders on a regular basis to discuss high-risk cases. In contrast to the private sector, soldiers can’t expect complete confidentiality with their medical records. Their command can monitor medical appointments, and talk with doctors about their health. Another critique of the embedded counseling team is that soldiers may be deterred from seeking help if they fear running into others from their unit while at these offices.
While the new system may not be perfect and may have some bugs to be worked out, it is a plus to see the Army proactively maneuvering care for soldiers’ mental health treatment and prevention.
Military Connection: Army’s New Mental Health Program: By Debbie Gregory