Taking a Knee: Barriers and Facilitators to Seeking Mental Health Help

Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members experience depression at higher rates than civilian Canadians. Mental health services for military members is exists and is available, yet services are not always being used by members even when the need is identified. As a military mental health clinician, I wanted to explore the reasons members do not go to mental health even when it is needed.

My research explores what brings military members to mental health services and uncovers how military culture impacts getting care. Also of interest is the topic of stigma and health care providers. Focus groups, with military members and health care providers, were hosted to discover the things that helped members go to mental health. Participatory Action Research (PAR) involves those from the community where the research occurs, and the research findings are meant to help that community. Social workers, nurses and psychologists working in military mental health departments, and military members, were recruited for the inquiry team that works with the researcher in all parts of the study. Focus groups, involving military members who use mental health services and physicians and social workers working in military health care, were then recruited.

The results of this research tell us that the CAF is dealing with structural barriers to getting care. This includes providing time for members to go to appointments, confidentiality is ensured, information about services is shared with members, language about mental health has changed and higher-ranking members talk about their own experience of getting care which helped members get their own help. Culture does make a difference for both military members and care providers in either promoting or preventing getting help. What was also discovered is that personal barriers of stigma still exist which is one reason members do not come to mental health. Changes are happening in the military culture in the area of mental health. Basic training, the place where members are introduced to military culture, military rules and military expectations may be a place for higher ranking members to talk about their experiences of getting help. Promoting leaders openness about their use of services and ensuring that leaders know about the resources that exist may continue to foster members’ use of mental health services. Personal level stigma still exists, stops members from going to mental health and needs more research. This study discovered that health care providers also do not get help when they need it and professional culture is one factor.

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