Study Shows U.S. Veterans Are Less Willing to Seek Treatment for Mental Health Than Physical Health

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology

    More than 200,000 U.S. service members transition out of military service every year, but civilian life can sometimes bring its own challenges. A new study shows that U.S. military veterans are less willing to seek treatment for mental health than physical health.

    “In general, I think that mental health conditions tend to be more stigmatized than physical health conditions,” said Mary Beth Miller, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

    Miller’s study included 334 veterans from 46 states — 66% were men and more than 70% identified themselves as a person of color. Participants completed screening questions for 15 medical conditions, including insomnia, hazardous alcohol use, drug use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

    The online survey rated the importance of treatment for the variety of health conditions and their willingness to seek treatment. Study results show participants were most willing to seek treatment for chronic pain, chronic medical conditions and physical brain injuries and veterans are less willing to seek help for mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, thoughts of suicide and substance use. Willingness was lowest for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as sleep disorders despite the high prevalence of these conditions in the veterans surveyed.

    “Part of what is going on there, is sleep disorders are so common that one of the veterans, that we did end up talking to in this study, specifically said that he thinks sleep problems are just so normalized that people don’t think about getting treatment for them,” Miller explained.

    The study also examined the role discrimination plays in seeking treatment for physical or mental health problems. More frequent experiences of discrimination were associated with less willingness to seek treatment for physical or mental health problems.

    “Among veterans of color, discriminatory experiences were associated with less willingness to seek treatment, but only among those who denied use of other strategies for coping with stress,” Miller said. “People who reported more everyday experiences with discrimination also reported less willingness to engage in treatment overall, so that was consistent for both medical and mental health conditions. “

    Miller explained that reluctance to seek help among veterans is because they’re unaware of the variety of treatment options for mental health conditions.

    “Unfortunately, that puts a lot of that burden on the primary care providers who are going to see them as they come in for physical health conditions,” said Miller. “But I think this is where screening and referral is really important.”

    If you are a veteran in crisis or you are concerned about one, help is available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Just go to the website: