Stress, PTSD and Mental Health of Veterans and Soldiers

Military and Mental Health

By Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.
Lash and Associates Publishing/Training, Inc.

Signs of stress and PTSD in the military 

As service members and veterans come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, many have psychological issues related to traumatic stress and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • More than 90% of soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq reported stressors of…
    • roadside bombs
    • length of deployment
    • handling human remains
    • killing an enemy
    • seeing dead or injured comrades
    • being unable to stop a violent situation.
  • 30% of troops returning home from Iraq reported some type of mental health problem, including
    • anxiety
    • depression–brain-injury-family/
    • nightmares
    • anger
    • difficulty concentrating.
  • 15-17% of troops returning from Iraq in 2004 experienced acute stress or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The stigma of mental health

Mental health treatment has always been carried more stigma or “baggage” than treatment for physical conditions in the U.S.  Common misperceptions in the general population are that seeking therapy, counseling or even medication for emotional help is a sign of weakness.  Even most private health insurers have strict limits on the scope and number of mental health services allowed.  There is a general belief among the public that those who seek mental health treatment are unstable, disturbed, and mentally ill.  This stereotype leads to patterns of avoidance by friends, neighbors and coworkers.  It contributes to denial by individuals and delays seeking treatment.

This stigma makes it even more difficult for soldiers and service members to ask for help in a military culture that stresses being strong and avoiding signs of vulnerability or weakness.

PTSD screening in the military

 The military has made a serious effort to address psychological issues among troops.  Despite this, there is still a lag of soldiers actually seeking help.  Before returning to their home stations, all soldiers undergo mandatory psychological and medical screening.  Based on the results of the psychological questionnaire to assess PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse, soldiers may be required to have an interview with a mental health professional.  Those who indicate medical symptoms are referred to medical professionals.

Soldiers are more reluctant to report psychological problems, especially when returning with their units.  The findings are striking…

  • Only 38-45% of troops newly diagnosed with mental health problems were interested in receiving help.
  • Fear of stigmatization and concern about barriers to getting psychological help was twice as likely among troops who scored positively compared to those who did not.
  • Only 23-40% of troops who reported interest in seeking help during the previous year had actually received professional treatment.

Beliefs about mental health and mental illness

Beliefs that psychological distress is a sign of weakness are also linked to the perception that individuals are responsible for their problems.  There is a common belief among civilians and service members that individuals should be able to control their psychological symptoms through choice, determination, and sheer will power.

Consequently, it is easy to see why service members fear exclusion by comrades if they report symptoms of PTSD or other emotional distress.  Seeking treatment may be avoided or delayed due to apprehension about its stigma and reactions of comrades.

Interventions for reducing stigma in the military 

Organizational policies and programs directly impact whether service members seek mental health support.  Concerns about losing a job or security clearance are barriers to seeking mental health treatment.  Anonymity and confidentiality are other concerns reported by soldiers.

Leaders and supervisors have a critical role in identifying and helping soldiers receive mental health support and treatment.  If leaders emphasize the importance of early mental health treatment, service members are more likely to seek help because it has less negative associations.  Leaders are instrumental for creating a climate where mental health problems such as PTSD are recognized and early treatment encouraged and supported.


Greene-Shortridge, TM, Britt, TW, and Castro, CA. (2007). The Stigma of Mental Health Problems in the Military. Military Medicine, 172, 2:157.

For more information, see:

Understanding the Effects of Brain Injury, Blast Injury, Concussion and PTSD

Blast injury, PTSD and brain injury guide for families and caregivers on the consequences of concussion in veterans. Used by many VA Hospitals and Army Medical Facilities.


Healing Together

By Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D and Dianne Kane, D.S.W.

Book for couples coping with effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from war, brain injury, violence, accidents, crime or health problems.


Lash Blog Permission

5 responses to “Stress, PTSD and Mental Health of Veterans and Soldiers”

  1. Nice, article undeniably more and more veterans would appreciate, if they would first diagnose the problem other than being diagnosed, as they can prepare for the upcoming test and treatments. A lot of war vets are having problems when they come back to their town. Families are more affected than anyone else, without proper knowledge on how to deal with this kind of problematic experience. It’ll be just a waste to send them on rehab centers because we can’t understand them. While some may have problems with drugs as they use it like an escape goat to temporarily relieve their pain that is why companies like Hope Care Recovery Treatment has made significant changes in the line of drug abuse as it will be a big problem once marijuana is legalized on all states.

  2. It’s arduous to seek out knowledgeable people on this matter, but you sound like you know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  3. Very informative article… Looking forward for more articles on your blog

  4. Renato Kama says:

    Awesome post – I was thinking about an article on a similar subject that I need to take a shot at, but from a slightly different angle. Thank you for sharing this with us…Obviously a lot of people appreciate it too!

  5. Amanda Petersen says:

    My name is Amanda Petersen and I am a junior at Plainedge High School in North Massapequa, NY. For the past three years I have been involved in the Plainedge Advanced Research Program that allows students to study a topic of their choice and we then compose a college level paper that is submitted to prestigious competitions.

    As part of the Intel Science Talent Search, I am interested in examining how veterans feel about society’s perception of individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My project will help people understand why veterans are reluctant to seek medical help. With the information that I will contain we can resolve that problem and more veterans will be more motivated to turn to medical help.
    The surveys that I created are brief questionnaires. My goal is to minimize any anxiety and stree while answering this survey. All of the responses will be kept anonymous and be analyzed only after aggregating all the responses. This protects your identity and allows you to stop answering the survey at any point and this is purely voluntary.
    I would greatly appreciate it if you were to be a part of this process. What would be the most convenient way for me to contact you to discuss the above topic and how this should be handled?
    Any feedback would be appreciated. I will attach a copy of my survey once you email me.
    If you have any questions – please contact
    Thank you,
    Amanda Petersen

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