Saturday, November 8, 2008
The Washington Post reports on an Army General who spoke out from the culture of silence on mental health by seeking treatment and advocating for others to do the same. Pauline Jelinek writes,
It takes as much bravery to do what he did when he got home.
Blackledge got psychiatric counseling to deal with wartime trauma, and now he is defying the military's culture of silence on the subject of mental health problems and treatment.
"It's part of our profession ... nobody wants to admit that they've got a weakness in this area," Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America's two wars.
"I have dealt with it. I'm dealing with it now," said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. "We need to be able to talk about it."
As the nation marks Veterans Day on Tuesday, thousands of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with anxiety, depression and other emotional problems.
As many as one-fifth of the more than 1.7 million who have served in the wars are estimated to have symptoms. In a sign of how tough it may be to change attitudes, roughly half of those who need help are not seeking it, studies have found.
Despite efforts to reduce the stigma of getting treatment, officials say they fear generals and other senior leaders remain unwilling to go for help, much less talk about it, partly because they fear it will hurt chances for promotion.
That reluctance is also worrisome because it sends the wrong signal to younger officers and perpetuates the problem leaders are working to reverse.
"Stigma is a challenge," Army Secretary Pete Geren said Friday at a Pentagon news conference on troop health care. "It's a challenge in society in general. It's certainly a challenge in the culture of the Army, where we have a premium on strength, physically, mentally, emotionally."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked leaders this year to set an example for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: "You can't expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won't do it."
Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist heading the defense center for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, is developing a campaign in which people will tell their personal stories. Troops, their families and others also will share concerns and ideas through Web links and other programs. Blackledge volunteered to help, and next week he and his wife, Iwona, an Air Force nurse, will speak on the subject at a medical conference.