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Research Review

Stigma, Barriers to Care Greater Among Active Duty Soldiers than National Guard

Active duty soldiers report greater mental health problems and greater service-related stigma, but significantly lower rates of use of mental health services than National Guard soldiers, according to research presented in Psychiatric Services.

The study examined the differences between active duty and National Guard soldiers at 3 and 12 months post-deployment from combat in Iraq using anonymous surveys. Members of the two groups, totaling more than 10,000 soldiers, were demographically similar, although National Guard members were older.

The researchers found clear differences between the two groups with active duty soldiers reporting greater mental health problems than National Guard soldiers (44% vs. 33%) and less utilization of mental health care (13% vs. 27%) at 12 months after deployment.

The study indicated that active duty respondents experience stigma nearly twice as often as National Guard members. Active duty soldiers were more likely to agree with statements relating to stigma including: my leaders would blame me for the problem; members of my unit would have less confidence in me; I would be seen as weak; unit leadership would treat me differently; and it would harm my career.

Some differences were also identified in specific barriers to obtaining mental health care identified by the two groups. Active duty solders reported significantly more difficulty scheduling an appointment and getting time off work than National Guard members (28% vs. 18% and 34% vs. 20%). National Guard soldiers, however, reported significantly greater concern over the cost of mental health care (15% versus 22%).

The researchers conclude that the results of this study, which is the first to compare stigma perceptions between active duty and National Guard soldiers, "may help to inform future policy to address concerns of inadequate access to mental health care, particularly among active duty soldiers."

— Source: American Psychiatric Association