Why so many Mental Health Programs never work

For years now, I have been railing about the mental health services in this country.  My biggest concern is the cost and next is the availability to those who actually need it.  I’ve read several articles and opinions about mental health and many of them say the biggest obstacle is those who need it seeking it and while that does have a scent of truth, it’s more like those who need it don’t know where or have access to it.  I finally decided to just created my own Suicide Prevention page on Facebook to offer any assistance and was content to let it go at that, until my wife sent me this article.

It was written by Christie Aschwanden for Health & Science titled “Military life is stressful on all concerned; efforts to help often fall short”.  The article touches on a number of subjects and is well-written.  It makes points that once seemed only obvious to me.  In it she writes “The military has never been a particularly family-friendly career. (Thus the old saying that if Uncle Sam had wanted you to have a family, he’d have issued you one.) Yet 44 percent of military personnel have children, and families serve, too.  In recognition of the rigors of service, every branch of the military runs programs to support the psychological health of military families. But a report released in 2013 by the Institute of Medicine concluded that these efforts are falling short in many areas.  Even relatively smooth deployments can strain families, says psychologist David Riggs. The person who comes back from war is not the same person who left, but the family that stays behind changes, too. “It’s not like the service member comes back” and family life just returns to normal, says Riggs, executive director of the Center for Deployment Psychology in Bethesda, Md., which trains behavioral health professionals to work with military personnel and their families.  Studies show that partners and children may develop anxiety, depression and other mental health problems while a family member is deployed, Riggs says, and these problems can persist after their loved one has come home.  The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have invested billions of dollars to expand their capacity to support veterans and their families, but it’s not clear that those dollars are translating into better results, says Terri Tanielian, a senior research analyst at the Rand Corp. in Arlington. “When people get care, are they getting the right care? Are they getting better, and if they’re not, is the system able to identify that and adjust accordingly?” Those questions remain unanswered, she says.  Stigma remains a major barrier to care. “Members of the military are notoriously stoic,” Riggs says. “Even when they’re in a great deal of psychological pain, they’re not likely to show it.” Often, someone with mental health needs will seek help for a physical pain instead, so health-care providers need training to identify underlying mental health issues.  “The number one complaint that brings people in for care is sleep disturbances,” Riggs says. Instead of telling a doctor that they’re having flashbacks, they’ll say that they can’t sleep, he says. “People worry that ‘if I go see a psychiatrist, my career is over.’ Yet we know that’s not the case most of the time,” Riggs says. As an example of how stigma can be fought, he points to the Real Warriors program, a campaign by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to encourage service members and their families to get help treating invisible wounds”.

Now to be fair, I am sure when these and other programs were created, they were done so with the best intentions but to me, here is where they went wrong.  It was and still is believed that you have to have a particular degree to understand these mental issues and that is not the case.  Many who suffer still cannot relate to those they would be forced or choose to see because their experience is far apart than most.  If you were a veteran who happened to be a doctor and another veteran came in to see you claiming that he/she could not sleep, you, as the doctor, would immediately have a better understanding that he/she could be talking about “flashbacks” than one who is not a veteran.  This is what is missing in today’s attempts at treating mental illnesses.  Today’s professional immediately seek medicine to cure all that ails when what ails does not require medicine.  Even for VA disability, it is required to have a diagnosis from a doctor before you will be considered to have any problem but how can anyone explain PTSD since it may differ between each person.

The reason mental treatments fail is because someone wishes that it be a cookie cutter form and one size will fit all but this is not and never will be the case but try explaining that to all those highly educated people who are placed in charge of these services.  Again speaking of VA disability, as a veteran you think that the only place that will understand you is an organization specifically designed for you but you would be wrong because the majority of it is staffed with people who have degrees but no real experience in what you are going through.  You begin to speak to them and automatically get that deer in the headlights look which immediately turns you off and makes you clam up.  Soon afterwards you begin to get that “hurry up out of my office” feeling and thereby begin to suspect that no one cares and no one ever will.


You want to fix the mental health treatment for not only veterans, their families but also the poor, homeless and forgotten?  First find those who have traveled that road and ask them to address the group, watch the reactions of those who relate and the body language of them as they see that they are truly not alone.  The second thing you need to do is make it part of any check-up to see a professional and that prevents mentally ill people from falling through the cracks.  Next, stop thinking that you will find all the answers to this nation’s problems in some book and that only someone who has achieved a specific degree can address it.  All kinds of veterans, from all walks of life, all different colors and all different shapes, have done some amazing work in the foxholes, barracks, mess halls and enlisted clubs of talking and helping each other through tough times, long before we ever knew they stress we carry now was invisible to others simply because it was never invisible to us.

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