Service men and women owe it to their fellow service members to stay in good mental as well as physical health. If you’re concerned about a possible mental health condition—or if you enter the armed forces with a past or present mental health condition—know that the armed forces do not require service members to disclose mental health problems to their chain of command. The responsibility for deciding whether to disclose your condition does fall on the medical officers and care providers you consult. They receive training on military policies concerning the confidentiality of protected health information (PHI). Here are some people to consider speaking with.
Confidential counselors are available for service members and their families through Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647. If you’re unsure whether to seek treatment or if you someone you know might need treatment, they are an excellent first stop for information and advice.
Primary care providers can be helpful for discussing concerns and treatment options.
Behavioral health care providers working at primary care clinics are available on many military bases so you can seek a specialist’s advice without leaving base. And at some bases, you can find convenient Embedded Behavioral Health teams—clinics separate from traditional medical facilities.
If you, a colleague or a family member are experiencing an immediate crisis, particularly if it’s a life-threatening mental health crisis, you should proceed immediately to a military or civilian emergency room for acute care or call 911.
How Will Asking for Mental Health Treatment Affect My Career?
Military personnel have always taken care of their physical health, but in today’s armed forces, mental health is equally essential to mission success. The military has changed many of its policies in recent years to encourage better mental health. The Department of Defense acknowledges that untreated mental health conditions pose a greater safety threat than mental health conditions for which you’re seeking treatment.
Under 2014 rules, talking to a doctor about your concerns, asking if you need a diagnosis, or seeking treatment does not affect your career. If your doctor needs to disclose your condition, your career is not at risk from this disclosure.
In addition, with changes to security clearance procedures, you no longer risk losing clearance by consulting a doctor. If you seek help for combat-related issues or receive marital counseling, you do not have to worry about “question 21” regarding treatment for mental or emotional conditions.
The Dangers of Not Disclosing
Untreated mental illness can, however, damage your career. If the symptoms are severe, your commanding officer may require duty limitations or recommend separation from the military for medical reasons.
Military records show that talking to a doctor is a good career move. According to a 2006 study in Military Medicine, 97% of personnel who sought mental health treatment did not experience any negative career impact. The same study showed that it’s risky to ignore a mental health condition. If it worsens, a commanding officer can require a mental health evaluation, which is much more damaging to your career. Among people who had command-directed evaluations, 39% had negative career impact.