US Military & Mental Health

In a Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 photo, a group of sailors and Marines who failed the so-called "tape test'' are led by an instructor on a three mile run as they work to improve their fitness and remain in the military, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Doctors say a number of military personnel are turning to liposuction to remove excess fat from around the waist so they can pass the Pentagon's body fat test. Some service members say they have no other choice because the Defense Department's method of estimating body fat is weeding out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds. A number of fitness experts and doctors agree, and they're calling for the military's fitness standards to be revamped. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

At this time the United States is suffering from a lack of understanding in all areas of mental health.  This is because the stigma has never been removed from mental health treatment.  Treating physical problems has always been accepted in our society but psychological problems and issues are seen negatively.  Many believe psychological/mental health issues show a sign of personal weakness.  Actually everyone has a personality with many “sides” and specific features and some of those “sides” are far from perfect and need personal development.  The complete lack of understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and what is effective treatment may be commonplace but the US Military seems have a history marked by insensitivity.

For many years the US military has had a particular “mental set” that promotes a certain type of thinking that ignores psychological and mental health issues.  The recruit has been expected to simply comply with the “way” the military presents itself.  Now there is certainly the need for an effective US military to have compliance, regulations, rules, and a specific team approach, but ignoring psychological and mental health considerations has led us to where we are today.  Currently the military is fixated on prescribing one psychotropic medication on top of another to solve real life problems.  This is bound to fail and no one really understands the effects of all the drugs interacting on the human body and resulting behavior.  Furthermore there seems to be a complete lack of understanding with regard to the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques that psychologists now deliver with remarkable success in many areas.

In the near future the US military will be facing more problems given the obesity epidemic in this country and the fact that more teens have psychological and mental health issues.  How is the US military going to recruit young men and women given a limited pool of reasonably responsible and capable young teenagers?  The answer to this question is twofold.  First the military must better understand personality, psychological considerations , and mental health issues.   In fact, some individuals may have “issues” but could be effective in the  military if they are evaluated correctly and placed properly in the military system.  More carefully evaluated possible recruits by licensed psychologists who are experts in personality, psychological testing and evaluation, and interviewing could make a huge difference in who is effectively recruited and where they may be placed for meaningful service.  Secondly, the US military must come up with better ideas to recruit teens.  Certainly a career in military service has been improved significantly in recent years.  However, more positive incentives and an more “sensitive” military is needed to recruit young people who will serve with honor and distinction.

The fact that teens today suffer more readily from anxiety, peer rejection, depression, and a lack of personal control may be at least partially the result of social media (computer age) and a different family life.  Today it is widely viewed that both parents must/should work and this by itself is not a bad example for children.  But often teens are uncertain of themselves and where they are going in life.  The pressures of social media and being part of the “peer group” affect teens in ways that were never dealt with before.  Even bullying has become more of a problem since teens can be “outed” or marginalized through social media.  These everyday pressures resulting in psychological/physical/emotional problems are an issue for all of us but the military must become more knowledgeable, flexible, and insightful.

The future of the US military should not be simply; “Attract the Brightest and Best.”  The US military should be looking for those teens who can still be very effective but do in fact have “sides” to their personality that need further development.  Today there are obvious examples of individuals who may not be especially promising in one area but are great with computers, technical support, and specific tasks not on the field of combat.  Conversely, there may be teens with personal issues who could still be very effective on the battlefield given their communication skills, desire, dedication, and physical prowess.  Obviously, the US military needs better psychological assessment if everyone with their own unique skill set is to be best considered.  The “old” view that everyone must fit into a rigid system that has a marginal understanding of individual differences and psychological issues is now a system that will not work.

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