Widely occurring, yet rarely discussed, mental health is a prevalent and pervasive issue in the U.S. In fact, 1 in 5 adults in America have or will experience a mental illness, and 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. However, many adults do not receive treatment for mental health due to lack of access, cost, or perceived social stigma. Mental health issues, if left untreated, can lead to additional problems such as addiction, homelessness, or incarceration.
Self-Stigma Among Veterans
While the social stigma on mental illness is slowly lessening, there are still common stereotypes that depict people with a mental illness as dangerous or volatile. Researchers state that these stereotypes can become internalized as a self-stigma among people with a mental illness. They begin to see themselves as a representation of these stereotypes and may not feel that seeking treatment is worth their effort. This is especially true for those suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A 2013 study found that most veterans who suffer from PTSD avoided treatment due to not wanting a label of mental illness, as they felt the public would perceive them as unstable or erratic.
Some veterans, interviewed during the PBS special War on the Brain, reported not seeking treatment due to being embarrassed and not identifying PTSD as something they could relate to. Those with higher ranks stated they were concerned about looking weak and undependable as leaders in the military. Additionally, the veterans stated they felt they had to minimize their condition and that it was simply a part of service to be dealt with silently. All these concerns and stereotypes internalized in veterans has caused only 8% of all veterans using the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services to seek treatment for PTSD, even though an estimated 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans are thought to have the disorder.
Reducing the Stigma through Telemedicine
The VA and other entities have continued to work to reduce the stigma surrounding PTSD in hopes of allowing more veterans seek treatment. One possible solution to the issue is telemedicine. Telemedicine allows a veteran access to treatment from their own homes, reducing the stigma they might feel if traveling to an in-person clinic. Through video-conferencing software, a veteran can be fully engaged in treatment plans without the worry of being negatively labeled by others. According to the American Psychiatric Association, telemedicine, or telepsychiatry can be just as effective as in-person therapy. Additionally, they stated that some patients may feel more comfortable talking with a provider on screen, allowing for more engaged treatment sessions. In fact, in a 2015 study, it was found that telemedicine care successfully engaged veterans with PTSD in the treatment process and showed improved mental health outcomes. Telemedicine can allow for more veterans to receive the care they need, thus reducing their perceived stigma about PTSD and its treatment options. Beyond reducing stigma, telemedicine can also reduce the stress of travel and increased wait times for in-person visits.
GlobalMeds software and hardware platforms, in use at the VA, are used to treat 55 modalities of care including telepsychiatry, mental health, and social work. Our platforms offer veterans a solution to video conference with their provider, set appointments at their discretion, and manage their medical records. Medical consults and treatment sessions conducted through our software platform give veterans the opportunity to get treatment for their PTSD from the comfort of their homes, and avoid the stigma they may feel from going to a provider in person. Through telemedicine veterans can get the care they deserve.