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'Real Warriors' takes aim at mental health stigma

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 21, 2009) -- A new Department of Defense campaign aims to minimize, if not eliminate the stigma attached to seeking mental-health assistance.

"The Real Warriors Campaign" is sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The campaign is designed to help servicemembers overcome the stigma associated with seeking psychological help and encourage servicemembers to seek out help when they need it.

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Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, surgeon general of the Army and commander of U.S. Army Medical Command, explained that the Army works hard to encourage Soldiers to overcome the stigma associated with seeking out mental-health assistance.

"One of our challenges is to lower the stigma of (Soldiers) getting follow-on counseling," Schoomaker said during a media roundtable Wednesday. "We are working in every venue we can to do that. The Army leadership, recognizing that stigma is a major part of that, has undertaken in the last two years very aggressive top-to-bottom sensitization and education of the force."

Some of that education has apparently worked. Results of a Mental Health Advisory Team survey from 2004 indicate some 41 percent of respondents would avoid seeking psychological health services because it would be "too embarrassing." By 2007, only 32 percent of respondents felt that way. Likewise, in 2004, some 65 percent of respondents believed seeking such services would make them "be seen as weak," while in 2007, that number dropped to less than half.

Schoomaker said when Soldiers return from deployment, they can experience symptoms from experiences they endure in combat -- and those symptoms are normal human reactions, and nothing to be ashamed of.

"Human beings exposed to trauma in life have fairly high frequency of developing symptoms later on. It's a normal human reaction," Schoomaker said. "You are not going crazy. It doesn't mean you are going to have a lifetime disability. It means you need sometimes to have some help and counseling, to prevent a longer and more resistant disorder we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- that is a persistence of these symptoms that begin to interrupt and interfere with life."

The Real Warriors Campaign uses social networking, radio, television, posters, flyers, and a Web site to reach active-duty servicemembers, military veterans, members of the National Guard and the Reserve, as well as family members and health professionals. The campaign features stories of real service members who have sought treatment and are continuing to serve.

The marketing campaign is designed to change the opinions of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines about what it means to seek out psychological health treatment, so that eventually, those servicemembers will be as comfortable seeking out assistance for mental health issues as they are seeking out assistance with physical issues.

"Real Warriors know that seeking care is a sign of strength that benefits themselves, their families and their units and Services," reads the campaign literature. That literature, and more information is available on the Real Warriors Web site at

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