Getting behavioral health care should be as easy as seeing a medic

by C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The secretary of the Army has said it, and the sergeant major of the Army has said it as well: There must be a substantial change in the way Soldiers think about behavioral health care. Across the force, they say, seeking out such assistance must be as common, and as acceptable, as going to the dentist for a checkup or to see the doctor about an injury.

"There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we look at behavioral health," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. "It needs to become common practice -- an everyday event."

Dailey said he thinks Soldiers ought to value being as squared away psychologically as they value being squared away physically, and that the Army will contribute to this by making behavioral health assistance as common as medical health assistance.

"We screen all of our Soldiers for all kinds of medical reasons," he said. "One of those should be behavioral health. And it should be a common practice every day. That way, we become accustomed to and attuned to that it is an acceptable thing to do. It is acceptable to ask for help."

Right now, Dailey said, it's acceptable -- even expected -- for Soldiers to seek medical assistance when they get hurt. It's expected also that when one Soldier sees another injured, they get that Soldier to a medic. Nobody in such a situation is questioning if getting that help is a sign of weakness. The same ought to be true for behavioral health assistance as well, Dailey said.

"Just like you would rush to their aid on the battlefield when they are wounded, you should rush to their aid if you see the signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues," he said.

According to Dailey, the Army's behavioral health care system has grown "tremendously" over the past several years, including at unit level, as part of embedded behavioral health programs which are designed to being behavior health right down to where Soldiers work and live.

As of October, the Army has filled 100 percent of its planned 61 embedded EBH teams. Those typically involve about 12 to 13 members, including 10 providers. Those teams, which operate at unit level, providing direct support to 31 brigade combat teams across the Army, as well as to an additional 142 other battalion and brigade-sized units.

Army deployment of EBH has shown statistically significant changes in areas such as improved mission readiness, increased use of outpatient behavioral health care services, and a decreased need for acute inpatient psychiatric care.

While it's true that not every Soldier who deploys will need assistance with behavioral health, military research has shown that as many as 20 percent of Soldiers who have deployed to either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, while as many as 15 percent of those Soldiers will experience other behavioral health problems that could benefit from some form of treatment.

"This is not something we can change, but it is something we can treat," Dailey said. "[I] ... urge everybody to break the silence, and promote dialogue within your formations at home and in your communities. Seek help and take the first step in recovery in overall resiliency."

The Army still has a big problem with the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health assistance, Dailey said. And that has to be fixed.

"I know for a fact we've done a lot to break that paradigm," he said. "I'll tell you, we have to continue to do it. Don't be happy with where we are today. It needs to become common practice that leaders, and Soldiers, and everybody seeks behavioral health assistance when they need it."

It's not just physical health that ensures the Army is ready to go to war when needed -- Soldiers need to be squared away both physically and mentally. And Soldiers, Dailey said, need to recognize when fellow Soldiers need behavioral health assistance as well, and intervene to ensure they get it -- so their units will be ready to fight when called to do so.

"Peers allow Soldiers, and afford them the opportunity to go out and seek behavioral health assistance without any type of ... ill behavior to what they are doing," he said. "It's important. It's a real injury. And it needs real circumstance to fix it. And this is a human endeavor. And this is a human problem. And it takes human solutions. And I think as we continue on our path we finally will break that stigma, and then finally it will be common practice like I talked about earlier. Soldiers will seek behavioral health assistance and leaders will encourage and even mandate it when they know their Soldiers need it."

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