Today's vets seek mental health help sooner than peers

Median time for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment is 2.5 years for post-9/11 vets, compared with 16 years for veterans before that date.

Mental health treatment has come a long way for our nation’s veterans.

Veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression much sooner than veterans before 9/11 or even civilians, according to a study in Psychiatric Services.

The study found that veterans who served post-9/11 are seeking PTSD care  in 2.5 years, compared to 16 years for veterans serving before 9/11, and 15 years for civilians.

The study also found that that the median time for depression treatment was one year for veterans following 9/11, compared to seven years for veterans before 9/11 and five years for civilians.

Lead author Simon Goldberg conducted the population-based survey study while working at the Veteran Administration Health Services Research and Development Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program run by faculty from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington School of Medicine. The analysis looked at data from 14,916 adults with a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD, major depressive disorder or alcohol-use disorder.

Goldberg, now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the results could reflect the increased investment in mental health care, screening and outreach for veterans. (See related story.)

Every person seeking primary-care treatment at the Veteran’s Administration is now screened for PTSD, depression and alcohol-use disorder – three of the most common mental health conditions among post-9/11 veterans.

Co-author John Fortney, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UW School of Medicine and co-director of the post-doctoral fellowship program, said the cumulative effect of outreach efforts by the Department of Defense, VA, and veterans organizations have helped encourage veterans to obtain care. 

Fortney said that, while there is still a lot of stigma in seeking mental health treatment among active duty military,  integrating mental health into VA primary-care services as part of a general wellness visit has improved access to care.

“Self-reliance and stoicism are expected in the military, so it is not easy for veterans to seek help when they re-engage into civilian life,” said Fortney.

The study also looked at the initiation of treatment for alcohol-use disorder and found no differences among the groups. All seemed to be reluctant to  seek help. Goldberg said this may highlight a general need for additional engagement efforts to improve understanding of alcohol-use disoder and encourage treatment in veteran and civilian populations alike.

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Tags:psychiatry & behavioral healthveteransalcohol abuse

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