Action 19

I can overcome barriers to seeking help, such as fear of stigma, feelings of distrust, and concerns about what others will think about my seeking help. Get help from peers, Chaplain, mental health counsellors. Such “expert companionship” provides an opportunity for self-disclosure and consideration of various perspectives on the current stressors and experiences. Such assistance has proven effective in helping individuals, couples and communities find peace and achieve growth. For a humorous discussion of ways to seek help, visit mantherapy.org.

Useful Information

Consider some of the concerns that returning service members may have that get in the way of their asking for help. Do you have any of these concerns and how can they be addressed?

  1. Concerns about “stigma” for getting help
    “What will others—my buddies, commander, and family members think of me if they learn that I am going for help?”
    “Going for help would be embarrassing.”
    “I would be open to ridicule.”
  2. Concerns about the possible consequences of getting help
    “If I go for help it might get out and jeopardize my military career or further assignments or delay my family reunion or risk my job.”
    “Members of my unit might have less confidence in me.”
    “My commander may blame me for the problem.”
    “I would be seen as being weak.”
  3. Concerns about the effectiveness of treatment
    “I do not think they will understand me.”
    “Treatment may make me worse, dredging up all those war stories.”
    “Counselling will bring back so many intense reminders of events in combat that I am deliberately trying to forget.”
    “I will get better on my own—time will heal things.”
  4. Concerns about getting help do not fit with how I see myself.
    “I am supposed to be a warrior and I need to suck it up and drive on.”
    “I feel ashamed for being troubled by my military experiences.”
    “I learned to ignore my feelings.”
    “I am not supposed to feel emotions other than anger.”
    “I might cry and that is unacceptable. Crying shows weakness that can get you dead. Becoming emotional is a distraction and makes you vulnerable. If you are distracted you can lose focus and in the world that I lived in that means someone might die.”
    “To be a man you are supposed to ignore or deny pain, especially emotional pain.”
  5. Concerns about the information I am receiving.
    “I avoid such information because it:
    “leads to unpleasant feelings”
    “might demand undesired changes or actions”
    “threatens my cherished beliefs about myself.”

See www.MakeTheConnection.net/Stories-of-Connection for stories of the benefits of service members getting help. Listen for the ways they handle and overcome each of these concerns.

Additional barriers to help-seeking include concerns about secrecy (“what goes on in the house stays in the house”), stoicism (maintain a public face of stability and the ability to handle any stressors”; “putting on a good face”) and denial (“keep all feelings, fears, family issues under wraps” and “not to be shared”). Avoiding, suppressing, clamming up, delaying to seek help, all have the potential of making things worse. There are effective treatments and many service members have benefited. Consider the following observations of the benefits of treatment.

Quotable Quotes

“Remember, it takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help.”

“Courage is the ability to face adversity, even if it is within yourself.”

“It is impressive what you can achieve just by sharing and owning your own story.

It is all about sharing.”

“It is your call, but remember, veterans are getting treatment every day.”

“I can go for help not only for me, but for those I love and care for.”

“I know that if the troops I lost could talk to me right now, they would say, ‘Come on, you are living for me now. Pick up your game.’”

“My commitment to taking care of my children gave me the reason to stop drinking.”

“Treatment got me from rock bottom to living well. As a result of treatment I learned how to:

“Recognize my triggers.” “Let go of fear.” “Calm down.” “Free myself from negative thinking.” “End the grip of nightmares and flashbacks.” “Feel again and share my emotions, instead of keeping them buried.”

“I used to drink to hide my pain and keep the shit out of my head.”

“I used to take an ‘internal retreat’, securely wrapping myself in myself as a way to manage my fears. I’d remove myself from others, turning inward.”

“I used to scan what everybody was doing. My brain just started working so fast and it is purely instinctual because I want to know what everyone’s intent that is around me is. I want to know if anyone has the intent to do harm. Treatment taught me how not to be hyper vigilant.”

“There is no shame for asking for help. No one can do this alone. I realize I am not the only one with these problems. You do not have to try and do it yourself.”

“The more I talked, the more I made a connection and the more honest I became with myself. The stuff I did and witnessed left a scar on my soul. Talking about it helped. It acted like a release.”

“It is amazing what you can do by just telling and owning your own story. It’s all about talking.”

“Taking the first step towards treatment was the most difficult. First, I had to acknowledge I had a problem and could not control how I was feeling. Treatment helped me develop the tools to handle my troublesome thoughts and feelings. With the help of my therapist, I was able to address many of the issues I battle in everyday life. I can now live a happy, healthy life, despite my experiences.”

“Twenty-two years after his last combat experiences in World War II, America’s best known hero, Audie Murphy, still slept with the lights on and with a loaded pistol by his bed. He couldn’t bring himself to ask for help concerning his war stress. After all, he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

“There was a time I would have called a soldier a weakling or worse for seeing a counsellor or going to a Chaplain. And if I didn’t say it to his face, I sure would have thought it. I don’t see it that way any more. Multiple deployments have taught me that we’re all going to need help from time to time and it’s the strong ones that are willing to ask for it.”

“It was the Chaplain who made the difference. You know, just to talk about problems and issues in my life at that time, things I was struggling with. So he was very important to me, and I appreciated him because he was there for me. I was grateful I had someone to turn to.”

“If it wasn’t for my wife, I do not know where I would be right now, because she was always there for me.”

“People notice things in me that I never noticed. Positive things I didn’t know— they just helped me ground myself and they gave advice and support. They tell me when I’m . . . well, they call me on my shit you know.”

“Even though it was a hassle to get help, it was worth all the effort to persist and get help.”

Action 20