In an American Psychiatric Services study, estimates of PTSD rates in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan ranged from 11% to 20%. Despite that, only 8% were diagnosed. Other studies have shown that only half of the U.S. veteran population who need mental health assistance seek out help.
Unfortunately, answering why this trend exists doesn’t give a simple answer or remedy. Many factors play a part, such as age, availability of coverage, societal pressure, and severity of symptoms. Understanding that there is no one fix, but many will be the key to successfully reaching more veterans in the future and getting them the help they need and deserve.
This begs the question – how can caseworkers better reach those veterans when they aren’t seeking assistance in the first place?
- Hire U.S. Veterans: It should go without saying that nobody understands what veterans are going through better than veterans themselves. Ensure this representation is present within your organization in one form or another.
- Awareness of Symptoms: Knowledge is power and knowing the symptoms of PTSD can greatly improve the likelihood that a veteran will seek help. Informational resources on websites or portals are great ways to offer self-serve options for veterans to educate themselves.
- Accessibility of Care: The distance a veteran must travel to get treatment is a key factor in whether they will seek help or not. Even in today’s virtual world, travel is often necessary to meet veterans at locations and events they frequent. Setting up tables at events with informational resources is a great way to open a channel of communication.
- Lowering Stigma Around the Term “PTSD:” It’s important to keep veterans in a positive mindset about getting treatment of any kind, but especially concerning PTSD. For years, psychiatrists and the military have been debating whether to change the clinical name for PTSD to reduce the stigma around the word “disorder.” Regardless of what we call it, it’s important that veterans believe and trust in the process and see the positives over the negatives.
- Social Support: A supportive network with family, friends, and community is a must. If your focus is solely on educating veterans, then you are setting up your clients for failure. The barriers that come with the stigma of PTSD are much easier to tear down if there is support within a veteran’s personal life.
Bridging the gap between veterans and providers is not something that will happen overnight. It will likely require a shift in mindset on the part of society before we see significant changes. A veteran who has access to treatment, knowledge of symptoms, belief that they can get better, and support in their daily lives is far more likely to seek out treatment than one who does not.