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An International Approach to Military Mental Health

Rosye Cloud, Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families, addresses the faulty perceptions surrounding military mental health, and explains how collaboration with our international partners will continue to strengthen the advancements we have already made.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been one of the most significant issues our  military has faced --- and we are not alone. Last week, the United States came together with representatives from Canada and the United Kingdom to address military mental health.  Ensuring the mental health and wellness of our  servicemembers, veterans and their families is a cause that unites all of us.

The event sends a strong message to our military, our veterans and  all Americans, that we as a nation, and our partners around the world, are serious about addressing these concerns. This event brought together leaders from the government, non-profit, and private  sectors, all committed to the same goal --- tending  to the invisible wounds that many service members too often endure in silence.

Many of the best thinkers from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom came together, not simply to discuss “what’s wrong” but also to share best practices and to chart a course for addressing these shared issues.The symposium included academics, clinicians, researchers, policy makers, foundations, veteran service organizations, national leaders and, of course, servicemembers, veterans and family members.

As leaders and experts took the stage to address a host of issues and convey a  variety of perspectives, common themes and challenges emerged. Chief among them was the need to enhance access to quality mental health services. There was common agreement that we must expand the capacity of those services so all who need care can get it in a timely manner, and in a setting that is relevant to their individual needs. Continued work is needed to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in general, and strong efforts are needed to eliminate false perceptions that seeking treatment will cast a shadow on the military member or their family. Additionally, thorough research continues to be conducted, and we must leverage that research into methods of treatment that have a lasting impact. Addressing these important issues  will benefit not only the military but, as is often the case, the entire  country.

It’s all hands on deck. We must continue to work together to address faulty perceptions surrounding military mental health. Many myths become barriers to care. For example, surveys discussed indicated that the public believes there is a very high rate of mental health issues for those who have deployed. In fact, about 4 in 5 service members do not experience serious mental health issues --- and of those who do, 88% can continue their duties with no alteration, even while in treatment.

The resilience the vast majority of military members display is remarkable. Their ability to contribute to the workforce, their communities and their families is indeed strong.

In August, President Obama signed an Executive Order that strengthens our ongoing commitment to military mental health, "I know that you join me in saying to everyone who’s ever worn the uniform—if you’re hurting, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help, it’s a sign of strength."  That theme is not only resonant in the United States, it is embraced by our allies as well.

By collaborating with our international partners, we will continue to strengthen the advancements we have already made, and new treatments will come to fruition as we continue to address military mental health as a collective body.

Rosye Cloud is the Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families