By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg, Special to
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Reducing the stigma related to
servicemembers seeking mental health assistance is a total team effort
that involves educating peers to look out for each other and
encouraging those who might be reluctant to receive care, a senior
military medical official said.
"Commanders and noncommissioned officers really play a
critical role in eliminating stigma, especially the junior-level
noncommissioned officers who are with the troops on a day-to-basis.
They play a key role in this goal of decreasing stigma," Col.
(Dr.) C.J. Diebold, chief of the psychiatry department at Tripler Army
Medical Center in Hawaii, said in an interview on the "Dot Mil
Docs" program on BlogTalkRadio.com.
He added that
improving one's overall behavioral health by eating sensibly, getting
exercise, and practicing good hygiene are key factors when facing
"Behavioral health is important to everyone, as it
directly affects how a person feels and acts," Diebold said.
He added that keeping up overall mental health is especially
crucial when deployed to a combat zone.
"When one is deployed in a place like a combat zone, one
must really maintain a really healthy lifestyle and a positive
attitude to be able to maintain good behavioral health," Diebold
Encouraging servicemembers to learn more about maintaining
overall mental health for not only themselves, but also for their
families, is just one of the elements highlighted in May, which was
Mental Health Month.
people's consciousness to recognize the importance of mental health,
and hopefully that will continue throughout the entire year,"
Many lessons have
been learned by looking at mental health issues year-round, he added.
"One of the
lessons learned over the past few decades is the importance of a
servicemember's psychological well-being in terms of being able to
perform their mission, but also the psychological well-being of their
families," Diebold said. He added that servicemembers who may
need assistance either during or after their deployment have a lot of
different options to choose from.
"A servicemember could go to their unit chaplain, and I
have talked with service-members over the years, and this is really
the first place that a lot of people will go to," he said.
"The chaplains are a very good way to go and be able to talk
through some of the issues that are going on."
Diebold said still other outlets include talking with primary
care providers, behavioral health professionals, psychologists,
psychiatrists, social workers, family therapists, and alcohol- and
thing to remember is that if a person is concerned that they may have
experienced a traumatic event in-theater and some other environment,
and it is really affecting them, to go in and talk to a counselor or
their primary care manager and get evaluated and get treated if it is
indicated," Diebold said. "The sooner it's recognized and
the sooner it is evaluated and treated, the better a person is going
to feel, and (it decreases) the chance that they may have long-term
Servicemembers may encounter posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) or combat and operational stress during or after deployments,
"I think that it is now the longest continuous combat
operations of any war besides the Revolutionary War, and we have had
servicemembers deploying multiple times now," he said. "The
stress that servicemembers and the families (is experiencing) has been
well recognized, and that is why these special programs and bolstering
of helping services have been implemented to help out."
Some of the symptoms associated with PTSD are nightmares,
nervousness, anxiety or flashbacks. In contrast to PTSD, combat and
operational stress reactions are short reactions to stress from being
in the combat zone.
Usually, combat and operational stress symptoms will resolve
with rest, short-term counseling or sometimes simply on their own, he
explained, whereas symptoms of PTSD can last a few days, months or
Diebold added that
the Department of Veterans Affairs has been working to find treatments
for PTSD. Usually, with treatment, a servicemember affected by PTSD
can return to active duty. Mental health professionals are deployed
in-theater to aid servicemembers who may be dealing with PTSD or know
someone who is, he noted.
"Our mental health professionals are out there among the
troops, educating the troops that this is an expected reaction and
here are some of the things that you can do to help decrease some of
"Commanders and Soldiers are being educated and being
encouraged to go in and seek mental health treatment," he
continued, "and leaders are encouraged to allow their Soldiers'
time away from work ... to get evaluated and treated."
(Cragg works in the New Media Branch of the
Defense Media Activity.)