WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 13, 2010) -- Openly discussing the damage stigma does to Soldiers in need of mental health services is a step toward eradicating the problem, said an Army suicide-prevention leader Tuesday.

Stigma and fear of career repercussions are top reasons Soldiers are reluctant to seek mental health assistance, said Col. Chris Philbrick, deputy director of the Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction Council and Task Force.

"The issue of stigma in the Army is real," Philbrick said and explained that while the culture of the Army seems to be changing in regards to mental health, the 'tough guy' mentality has not disappeared.

Philbrick said that today, Soldiers are expected to deal with traumatic events and "drive on." And while that attitude is still necessary to accomplish missions, Philbrick explained that leaders now recognize that some Soldiers need to get help in order to successfully return to their units.

He also said that the resilience and anti-suicide educational products being refined each year are making a difference.

"We're no longer providing you with Power Point slides and saying, 'have a nice day,'" he said of the Army's current push to promote suicide prevention. "It's not effective."

Philbrick said new realistic training videos, resilience classes for basic trainees, and endorsement by senior Army leadership to eradicate the problem have heightened suicide awareness for all Soldiers.

He also encouraged Soldiers to continue seeking help up to the next level of their chain of command until they get the assistance they need. Many times, he said, Soldiers or their Families say they didn't know where to turn when in need of mental health services.

"I believe that if you get turned away at the first door, go knock at the next one, or if need be, kick it down," he said, encouraging Soldiers to continue seeking help. He noted that Soldiers and their Family members have many places to turn when in distress: a supervisor, commander, chaplain, behavioral health services or a hospital.
Philbrick stressed the importance of first-line supervisors, and explained that they play a major role in spotting changes in Soldiers' behavior.

With the Army's suicide rate reaching about 21 Soldiers per 100,000, the ratio is slightly higher than the national average. However, Philbrick said he believes the concentration on suicide prevention and open discourse among senior Army leaders on the topic will move to decrease both suicide rates and stigma.

"We believe that the Army's adjustments will continue to move the Army forward," he said.