By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 29, 2016) -- Both the Army secretary and the sergeant major of the Army are on the record: There must be a substantial change in the way Soldiers think about behavioral health care.
"There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we look at behavioral health," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. "It needs to become common practice -- an everyday event."
Dailey believes that, across the force, seeking out such assistance must be as common and accepted as going to the dentist for a checkup or to see the doctor for an injury. Soldiers ought to value being squared away psychologically as much they value being squared away physically.
The Army aims to promote this attitude, Dailey said, by making behavioral health assistance as common as medical health assistance.
"We screen all of our Soldiers for all kinds of medical reasons," he said. "One of those [reasons] should be behavioral health. And it should be a common practice ... That way, we become accustomed to ... [it as] an acceptable thing to do. It is acceptable to ask for help."
Right now, Dailey said, it's expected that a Soldier who gets hurt will seek medical assistance. It's also expected that a Soldier who sees another get injured will get that injured Soldier to a medic. In the Army, seeking help under such circumstances is not a sign of weakness.
The same ought to be true for behavioral health assistance, Dailey said.
"Just like you would rush to their aid on the battlefield when they are wounded, you should rush to their aid if you see the signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues," he said.
According to Dailey, the Army's behavioral health care system has grown tremendously over the past several years, including at unit level, where it takes the form of embedded behavioral health programs that promote behavioral health right where Soldiers work and live.
As of October, the Army had filled 100 percent of its planned 61 embedded behavioral health teams. Each team typically involves about 12 to 13 members, including 10 service providers. Currently, the teams provide direct support to 31 brigade combat teams across the Army, as well an additional 142 other battalion and brigade-sized units.
Already, the Army deployment of embedded behavioral health has achieved statistically significant improvements in areas such as mission readiness, outpatient behavioral health care services and acute inpatient psychiatric care.
Not every Soldier who deploys will need behavioral health assistance, but research has shown that 20 percent of the Soldiers who deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, while 15 percent of those Soldiers will likely experience other behavioral health problems that could benefit from treatment.
"This is not something we can change, but it is something we can treat," Dailey said. "[I] urge everybody to break the silence and promote dialogue within your formations at home and in your communities. Seek help and take the first step in recovery in overall resiliency."
The Army must also still contend with the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health assistance, Dailey said.
"I know for a fact we've done a lot to break that paradigm," he said. "I'll tell you, we have to continue to do it. ... It needs to become common practice that leaders and Soldiers and everybody seek behavioral health assistance when they need it."
In addition to lifting the stigma, the Army must ensure that Soldiers can recognize when their fellow Soldiers need behavioral health assistance and are prepared to intervene -- so their units will be ready to fight when called on.
"It's a real injury, and it needs real circumstance to fix it," Dailey said. "I think as we continue on our path we finally will break that stigma ... Soldiers will seek behavioral health assistance, and leaders will encourage and even mandate it when they know their Soldiers need it."