May Suicide Numbers and Barriers to Mental Health Treatment
Posted by Laura Smith on June 17
Today, the Army released information about suspected and confirmed suicides in May and updated numbers from previous months. Among active duty service members, there were 20 suspected suicides with 1 confirmed in May. Among the non-activated reserve component, there were 6 suspected suicides with none confirmed. These numbers are up from April, which were already the highest numbers for 2011 so far.
These numbers again highlight the critical need for service members – and their veteran counterparts – to receive the mental health treatment they may need. This week, IAVA released a summary of RAND Corporation’s report, Needs Assessment of New York Veterans. Though focused specifically on New York veterans, RAND reported many of the barriers to mental health care that are echoed in the experiences of veterans across the country.
Of those surveyed by RAND, 56% of veterans “either wanted or needed some type of mental health services.”[i] Yet, only 24% reported actually seeking help in the past year. This statistic begs to the question: why do so many fail to seek mental health treatment which could help overcome depression or PTSD and lower the staggering suicide rate?
RAND’s survey of New York veterans provides us with some insight. A primary concern for most veterans was the possible negative or harmful side effects associated with mental health treatment medications. In addition, the stigma against seeking care and a lack of awareness surrounding treatment prevented even more veterans from seeking the care they needed. Despite new security clearance procedures and anti-discrimination policies, many respondents feared that seeking professional help would still harm their careers and ability to obtain a security clearance. Although reported by fewer respondents, the high cost of care, knowing where to seek help and getting time off for appointments also created barriers to treatment.
RAND concluded that in order to address these barriers to mental health treatment, as well as the other challenges outlined in the report, greater emphasis should be placed on communities. While the VA and federal government must continue to strive to reduce institutional barriers and provide guides to help navigate the complex benefits system, local support structures must also be utilized. By bolstering the public-private connection on the federal and local levels, we can help new veterans “unlock their full potential.”[ii] Until then, we risk losing more of our service members and veterans to suicide.
For more about mental health treatment barriers, other issues effecting New York veterans and IAVA’s policy recommendations based on RAND’s report please visit http://iava.org/nyveterans.
Laura Smith is a Summer Research Intern at IAVA in Washington, D.C. She just received her M.A. from the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Laura is the proud sister of two Navy officers and the daughter of a Navy veteran. Follow her on Twitter at @LKSinDC.
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