Stigma of mental illness and service use in the military

J Ment Health. 2012 Jun;21(3):264-73. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2011.621468. Epub 2012 Jan 17.


Background: Many service members do not utilize the available services designed to assist them in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems that emerge during active duty.

Aims: In the current paper, we discuss the possible role stigma plays in the underutilization of treatments in the military, and attempt to transfer a well-articulated framework for understanding stigma and stigma-change in civilian populations to the military context.

Methods: The literature was searched for papers reviewing negative beliefs about mental illness and fears of stigmatization and underutilization of treatments, especially as relevant to service members.

Results: We explain how public stigma, self stigma, and label avoidance may emerge as barriers to care seeking and service participation in soldiers, and propose approaches/strategies for change. We then discuss a number of recent applications of these approaches in both civilian and military initiatives.

Conclusions: Stigma-change programs specifically created by/for the military that integrate components of education and direct contact with respected peers or veterans who have coped with mental health problems may have great utility at both the early stages of military training and later, when soldiers return from theatres of operation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Military Personnel / education
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy