The military is filled with mentally and physically “hard” people. Wrong. The military is filled with… people. Yes, there are mentally and physically hard people. But, there are various types of people in the military. People who are driven by emotion. People who are incentivized by happiness. People who are molded by the past. People who are focused on the future. People who are paralyzed by their deepest fear. People who survive based on instinct and routine habits.
The most difficult part of being in the military is not the deployments to desolate places for long periods of time. It isn’t being away from your family. It isn’t the demanding work, fast-paced environment, or the inability to live a normal life. The most difficult part of being in the military is the way people treat people.
One of many issues is the way leaders approach the mental health stigma. If you were to ask someone in the military what might be troubling them, you would likely be greeted with, “nothing is wrong with me.” It isn’t likely that the person you asked is actually fine, they just didn’t want to tell you, didn’t want people to know, or feared the stigma.
Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype).“Mental Health: Overcoming The Stigma of Mental Illness” (Mayo Clinic)
Mental Health = a person’s emotional, psychological, cognitive, behavioral well-being. It can be the healthy state of any singular or combination of the aforementioned things. Mental health is a touchy subject in the military. Why? Isn’t there some kind of semi-annual training to provide tactics that support mental health? Sometimes. Probably. Most likely. More often than not, people are ill-equipped to deal with other people’s problems — emotional, physical, or otherwise. These ill-equipped people creep up the ladder of leadership, inherit some responsibility, and focus on the mission. Mission before everything, am I right?
The stigma surrounding mental health creates an environment in the military where people avoid the opportunities to seek help. Whether it is talking about their troubles or seeking out a diagnosis in order to pursue treatment – people avoid it. The military-at-large isn’t seeking out to trample people’s well-being and suffocate their happiness. To think that way creates a false impression that the military is incapable of recognizing their personnel are indeed human. The treatment options exist. Programs exist solely to provide support to those seeking help. Hotlines are open 24/7 to field phone calls from servicemembers who want a person to talk to.
I have witnessed this issue first-hand. A servicemember needed help. They were even willing to come to their leadership and express their feelings, open up about the ongoing struggles in their personal life, and provide context as to why their work performance had been lacking in the preceding days. The leadership took the only route they knew: remove this person from their current work role and deem them incapable of performing their duties. F*cking despicable. The lack of concern, inability to empathize, and utter nonsense displayed by those leaders set the person on a terrible path that was no fault of their own. People spread rumors. People made assumptions. People added to the stigma and created a monster that this poor soul had to fight at the same time they were fighting their own monsters. The person is doing well now. However, that demonstration of poor leadership likely convinced them to see their way out of the military.
What would have been the right decision? It definitely wasn’t “take action and figure it out later” like that leadership team demonstrated. The right answer is to do whatever it takes. Whether that is to educate themselves on resources they can provide or encourage the person to seek treatment – they got it wrong that day. Don’t take offense, but if you think this stigma doesn’t exist in the military, you are a half-wit.
Avoiding the subject of mental health, evading those with issues, and failing to help those in need not only makes someone a horrible leader… it makes them a horrible person. Poor mental health doesn’t equate to mental illness and mental illness doesn’t equate to poor mental health. Education is everything, but so is decency, respect, and acceptance.
Seek help if you need it. Self-care is everything. Find the opportunity to tune-up your mental health, emotional health, and physical health. Asking for help, seeking help, and doing the required tasks in order to maintain your well-being isn’t weak. It is smart. Workout. Go to yoga. Join a support group. Seek treatment. Do whatever the hell you need to do in order to be the best you.
Provide help if someone seeks it. Don’t judge. Don’t embrace prejudice and foster discrimination. Your insensitive nature will encourage reluctance, breed self-doubt, yield anger, and ruin lives. Essentially, don’t be a piece of sh*t.