Military Leadership Influences the Stigma attached to Mental Health Services

Military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have reported high levels of psychological problems, according the Department of Veterans Affairs. “This data revealed that in 2008 rates of PTSD were at 21.8%, rates of depression were at 17.4%, rates of alcohol abuse were at 7.1%, and rates of drug abuse were at 3.0%,” said Thomas W. Britt of the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Germany. “Although many veterans report adjustment problems following combat, only a minority of soldiers get help for their difficulties.” Statistics show that as few as one in four soldiers that need help actually receive it. Some of the barriers that prevent military personnel from seeking help are the stigma attached to mental health problems, the affect it could have on their careers, and the availability of services. Britt believes that commissioned officers (Officers) and non-commissioned officers (NCO), both of whom are in a position of authority in the military, directly influence the stigma and access to mental health services. “In the present research, we investigate the role positive and negative leadership behaviors have in predicting stigma and practical barriers, both between combat veterans and within combat veterans over a 3-month time period.”

For his study, Britt assessed over 1,400 combat soldiers 8, 12, and 16 weeks after they returned home. He asked them how their leaders’ attitudes and behaviors affected their willingness to seek mental health services and found that they directly influenced both stigma and practical barriers to seeking help. “In the present study, negative/destructive leader behaviors were more strongly linked to stigma, whereas positive/constructive leader behaviors were more strongly linked to practical barriers,” said Britt. “These findings are consistent with the argument that leaders who engage in more positive behaviors may be more likely to remove practical impediments, clarify procedures, and make accommodations for those seeking treatment.” He added, “In conclusion, the findings of the present study reveal the relationships between different leader behaviors and factors that influence a service member’s decision to seek mental health treatment.”

Britt, T. W., Wright, K. M., & Moore, D. (2011, December 5). Leadership as a Predictor of Stigma and Practical Barriers Toward Receiving Mental Health Treatment: A Multilevel Approach. Psychological Services. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026412

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Reg


    December 14th, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    You kind of have to learn to go with the flow when you are in the military. What the commanding officers say goes. and the same holds true with their feelings about certain things. even when you disagree the best thing that you can do is to say yes sir and move on.

  • Daniella


    December 15th, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    My dad was military and he would have NEVER admitted that something was bothering him even when you knew that it was, That would have gone against that whole stiff upper lip that is preached and drilled when you are in the military. Unfortunately that got us kids into a lot of trouble growing up because if you even thought about getting emotional he would shoot that down in a minute. You just had to maintain that facade of cool and calm all the time. Not a great way for an overly dramatic adolescent to grow up.

  • Greg


    December 15th, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    Those figures are scary!But what actually is causing all those war gets to come to have the disorders?Is something wrong with our methods of training?Is something lacking?If there is rigorous training for physical health then why can’t we have the armed forces train their people for mental health too.

  • joyce


    December 17th, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    You go to war- think that you would come home without issues? Doubtful. And if you found yourself in that situation sure would be nice to know that the military would have your back when you got home instead of always making it so dang hard to get treatment for the memories that plague you, no matter how they may implement themselves.

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