Mental Health Treatment and Serving in the Military
Mental Health problems are very common. This is true both for civilians and Service Members in the military. Sometimes mental health issues are relatively minor, for example a fear of spiders. Sometimes they are severe, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The risk for some mental health issues, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, may be increased when Service Members go to war. Both for the good of the individual, and for the good of the military as a whole, it is important that all health conditions, both physical and mental, are appropriately identified and treated. Because of the unique nature of military service, some aspects of military mental health treatment may be different than that encountered in the civilian world.
Are rates of mental health problems similar in the military and in civilians? Because of the screening process to get into the military, Service Members are, on average, both physically and mentally more healthy than the general population. However, just as there are physical risks inherent in combat, there are also mental health risks from the stress of military life. Rates of mental health problems tend to increase with the ongoing stress of deployments and military life.
If I see a psychiatrist or psychologist, does it mean I will be kicked out of the military? Most Service Members seen by mental health providers continue to function normally in their military carriers, or, if they are impaired, are treated and return to duty. However, there are certain, rare conditions, such psychosis, that are considered fundamentally incompatible with military service. Any medical condition, physical or mental, that prevents you from performing your job, it needs to be addressed. If you are not able to do your job in the military, you will likely be separated or medically retired. Getting into appropriate treatment can help you recover and make this less likely.
Will seeing a psychiatrist or psychiatrist otherwise impact my security clearance? Questions about mental health treatment do come up when it comes time to get a security clearance. Most often, this does not cause problems for the individual who was treated. The result, however, depends on the severity and nature of the condition that was diagnosed. Issues such as depression, anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are unlikely to cause problems for security clearance or military jobs. Alcoholism or other substance abuse, if it is not controlled, is more problematic.
What about my particular job? Some military positions, such as for pilots, submariners, or special forces, have more strict rules for health than other parts of the military. For those with these special jobs, many medications are prohibited. Medical conditions must be well controlled before you travel to an isolated duty station where medical or mental health care may be difficult to come by. If in doubt, ask your own military medical provider.
Will my mental health care be kept private? Health care providers are required to try and keep your information private. However, if your health condition causes danger to you or to others, it must be addressed, even if this means violating your privacy. Being in the military means that the lives of others depends on your performance, so a commanding officer does have the right to ask your health care provider if you are fit for duty.
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