The rate of depression among veterans has increased significantly in recent years. Veterans who have returned from combat situations are likely to experience a number of physical and psychological challenges, including anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and posttraumatic stress. The large number of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has raised awareness about the mental health needs of our soldiers. The Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) has worked to improve the resources available to the high number of mentally impaired veterans in recent years and implemented a plan to make psychotherapy services more accessible to members of the VA. But before the initiation of the Comprehensive Veterans Health Administration Mental Health Strategic Plan, many veterans went under- and untreated. Individuals with ongoing mental health problems are less likely to succeed financially, professionally, and relationally, putting a strain on communities and national social resources.
Inger E. Burnett-Zeigler believes that it is important to have an accurate gauge of how many veterans received adequate care prior to this new health initiative in order to assess its progress. To measure this, Burnett-Zeigler recently analyzed data from over 200,000 veterans who had received depression diagnoses from the VA before the new health plan. Burnett-Zeigler looked at which veterans sought individual, group, or both modes of psychotherapy in the 90 days immediately following their diagnoses. The results revealed that of the 80% of the veterans who received therapy, more entered into group than individual therapy sessions after their initial diagnosis. Single female veterans, under age 35, were more likely to participate in individual sessions only, especially if they also had comorbid anxiety or substance problems. Older male veterans were more likely to enroll in group therapy alone. However, Burnett-Zeigler notes that the group therapy participants had higher completion rates than the individual therapy participants. And overall, many veterans chose not to enter into any therapy in the first few months after being diagnosed with depression. Burnett-Zeigler added, “This study highlights the assertion that more efforts are needed to encourage early initiation of psychotherapy treatment among depressed veterans.”
Burnett-Zeigler, I. E., Pfeiffer, P., Zivin, K., Glass, J. E., Ilgen, M. A., Flynn, H. A., et al. (2012). Psychotherapy utilization for acute depression within the veterans affairs health care system. Psychological Services. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027957
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