Panel Declares Military Mental Health Services Inadequate
> 3/5/2007 1:18:06 PM

An extensive report issued by the American Psychological Association calls attention to what members and panel experts call a serious deficiency in the quality and convenience of mental health services currently avaliable to American military personnel and their families. As the end result of a task force called together in July 2006, the full 67-page report should be read by all concerned parties, especially those involved in the oversight of our military.

The APA's accompanying press release lists post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and traumatic brain ijury (TBI) as major topics of concern among thousands of returning soldiers. But situations at home are often just as stressful for the children and significant others of the servicemen and women in question. At least 700,000 American children currently have one or both parents deployed overseas. Experts have observed extremely high levels of anxiety and even regressive behaviors in these children. It's not only the absence of a loved one that can bring about conflicting emotions; his or her return home and  the resulting re-establishment of domestic life presents its own set of difficulties, and attention from qualified professionals can help ease these transitions. Treatments and therapies should be made available to military families, and they should be offered at a reduced cost, especially when considering the meager wages sent home by many servicemen and women.

Education is essential to the success of any such program. The generally negative attitude regarding mental illness that is held by many in the military is probably the largest hurdle blocking the effective administration of treatments. Revisions to the system will prove largely fruitless if servicemen and women remain unreceptive. The stresses of war are extraordinary and many among our ranks suffer silently and needlessly. Treatment for anxiety and related mental health issues can be comprehensive, anonymous, and life-changing. Soldiers do not need to stop themselves from seeking help for what they falsely believe to be evidence of personal failing and/or general inadequacy. Still when considering some of the downright dismissive attitudes held only years ago, popular opinion has made therapy and medication slightly more acceptable to the average personnel. The daughter of a former Air Force scientist and pilot speaks of her father's battles with severe depression:

"The major way [mental illness] was treated was to go to the Officers Club and drink. Alcohol was very heavily subsidized by the Air Force. At that time, had he sought treatment, there is no question he would have been out of the service."

According to the report, even those members who choose to seek treatment are not adequately served, as the military's mental health teams are, for the most part, seriously understaffed and inexperienced. Up to 4 in 10 designated positions remain unfilled, and the doctors assigned are often local practitioners not specifically trained to address problems related to military service. Due to their scarcity and the intensity of their jobs, burnout is extremely common among those treating and medicating members of the military. Soldiers who need their services often find it difficult and inconvenient due to waiting lists and a subpar referral process. We clearly need to install a network of professionals specifically organized to address the mental health needs of the American military. And the military's organized responses must be more sufficient than online self-assessment tests from the Department of Defense, which though well-meaning and marginally helpful cannot even begin to combat the problem as a whole. The lack of research on this topic is alarming in a country where political discussion is so often infused with phrases advocating support for our troops and the restating our common concern over their well-being. We cannot ignore their psychological needs just as we cannot ignore their status on the battlefield. These issues will only continue to gain prominence in the face of an increasingly miltarized world, and we must find a better way of addressing them if we wish to sustain the power of our armed forces, because a core of healthy soldiers is more efficient in service and well worth the effort.

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