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Masculinity and stigma among emerging adult military members and veterans: implications for encouraging help-seeking

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Abstract

Emerging adult military members face occupational stressors that can lead to mental health issues including anxiety, depression, substance use, and PTSD. Serious mental health issues, including depression, and suicidality are increasing among young veterans. More than half of those experiencing a mental health problem do not seek help and could benefit from therapy. This qualitative study (1) revealed barriers to accessing mental health treatment and (2) provided ways to decrease stigma and encourage help seeking. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 emerging adult military members and asked about (1) barriers to mental health treatment and (2) ways to decrease these obstacles. Following a thematic analysis approach, two coders employed rigorous coding procedures using reflexive meetings and debriefings to find patterns using Excel and NVivo. Barriers to accessing mental health treatment exist at the systems, peers and leadership, and self-stigma (i.e., internalized) levels due to hegemonic masculinity tenants in the military. Suggestions to improve and encourage mental health treatment include implementing changes at the structural level in the military, increasing knowledge among the public sector, and improving education and training among helping professionals who are serving emerging adult military populations. Destigmatizing mental health treatment is no easy task but working collaboratively with emerging adult military members to understand their perceptions and attitudes can move us in a positive direction.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Funding

The development of this article was supported by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Career Center’s Robert P. Larsen Career Development Grant. The views, however, are those of the authors and do not reflect official positions of the UIUC Career Center. https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7710-2599

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Clary, K.L., Pena, S. & Smith, D.C. Masculinity and stigma among emerging adult military members and veterans: implications for encouraging help-seeking. Curr Psychol 42, 4422–4438 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01768-7

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