Last November, an Army psychiatrist engaged in a public shooting at Ft. Hood, the U.S. Army’s largest base in the country. Paired with increasing rates of soldiers with PTSD—sometimes treated, and sometimes fighting for recognition of their struggles—the shooting put mental health and the military in the national spotlight. With overseas combat engagement now in its 9th year, mental health needs present at Ft. Hood are higher than ever before, often straining the base’s robust mental health staff. And it’s believed that even more troops may need help than are asking for it. Ft. Hood, located in Texas, houses approximately 10% of Army personnel. If the psychological and emotional state of troops there are an indication of mental health needs across the rest of the military, Major General William Grimsley told USA Today, then both the Army and the nation will continue to experience unprecedented strain on available services.
At Ft. Hood, 50 mental health workers were employed in 2004; today, there are 171 with almost 30 more on the way. Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 numbered 310; last year there were 2,445. Currently, 4,000 patients meet with Ft. Hood counselors each month, and more than 550 are sent off-base to army-contracted private clinics, simply because Ft. Hood’s staff is booked solid and cannot keep up with the demand for mental health needs. Troops’ families are also under greater strain than ever before: requests for marriage counseling sessions and child/adolescent psychological counseling are both at record highs. Every time the Army hires more counselors, their schedules are instantly filled up, and local clinics are working extended hours to keep up with the need.
Even though Ft. Hood continues to add mental health personnel, as many as 1 in 4 soldiers reports reluctance to ask for emotional and psychological assistance. Mental health stigma, present across society, is especially strong in the military, soldiers say, where being brave and strong is prized. However, as long as mental health services aren’t received—whether by limited availability or because of perceived shame—the well-being of both soldiers and their families continues to be at stake. Army suicide rates for 2010 are already outpacing those from 2009; in June 2010 alone, there were 32: the highest monthly number since the Army began keeping track.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.