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Clemson researcher to explore why few veterans seek mental health help

Why do so few veterans ask for mental health help when help is available? This is a question being asked by the Defense Department, and they have asked a Clemson professor to help them find the answer.

A grant for $1.5 million has been awarded to Clemson University professor Thomas Britt by the U.S. Department of Defense. The grant is to research why more veterans do not seek available mental health treatment when it comes to dealing with psychological problems that are a result from combat experience.

Britt says there is a stigma attached to being identified with someone who has a mental health issue.

We’re initially going to do a pilot test with this particular grant, and then we hope to apply it to broader military personnel. And the intervention is just designed to effectively communicate to military personnel, when they need to get treatment, and basically to improve their attitudes towards treatment.

Britt says DOD is concerned about getting treatment to those who have problems which may only get worse.

I think the challenge is to get veterans of these deployments to realize when their own coping resources aren’t working anymore -so, when they try to handle it themselves, when they try to suck it up, but the symptoms persist, and the symptoms end up interfering with their relationships with their work…

Britt says there are times when the soldier can pick it up and shake it off, but the challenge is to get veterans of these deployments to realize when their own coping resources aren’t working anymore.

Many soldiers believe that if they have a mental problem, then they should just handle it on their own and not consult outside of authorities. Especially when service members are trained to be psychologically robust and resilient. And there’s a kind of expectation that if anything, a problem develops, then they are their first resource. and to be able to cope with it on their own.

There are many warning signs, says Britt. Some common signs may be: re-experiencing the event; nightmares associated with combat; being startled easily; avoiding people.  ”If you find yourself responding to things with anger in situations that you didn’t use to get angry about, then that’s kind of a sign that you’re having some issues resulting from, in many cases, combat exposure that needs addressed.” Britt added that excessive use of alcohol could also be a noticeable symptom.

Britt says there is a history of people saying they’ve grown stronger as a result of dealing with the issues they had to face in combat.

They often return appreciating life more, appreciating their family more. What’s interesting is that these benefits or positive aspects of combat often occur simultaneously with the negative aspects. So you can, so the two aren’t necessarily compatible. You could be having symptoms as a result of your combat exposure and you could also be perceiving that you’ve become stronger in terms of your ability to handle stress.

This three-year research will lead to the development of an intervention program to encourage veterans to seek necessary mental health treatment.

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