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About one-fifth of the veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan—300,000 people—return home with combat-related mental health problems. Many of these people leave one war only to return home to fight a war with stigma. However, new research by Mike Reynolds, an experimental psychology student at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., holds some good news for these veterans: Civilians largely don't hold soldiers responsible for their mental illnesses.
Reynolds had 119 civilians read vignettes about soldiers' and civilians' mental health. The vignettes were about people who were diagnosed as having mental illness, such as schizophrenia or major depressive disorder. Reynolds measured how much the participants stigmatized the vignette subjects, asking them whether they believed the people were personally responsible for their illness and whether it is treatable, for example. Participants also indicated whether they would like the mentally ill vets or civilians marrying into their family, as a colleague, or as a neighbor.
For most of the conditions, Reynolds found that the stigma civilians felt toward mentally ill military personnel matched the stigma they felt toward other civilians. However, one condition was significantly different: personal responsibility.
While 65 percent of civilians felt that the civilian was personally responsible for his or her illness, only 31 percent felt that military members were responsible for theirs.
This may be because people assume veterans' mental health problems result from seeing the horrors of war, says Reynolds.
While these attitudes are perhaps unfair to the mentally ill civilians, "They give hope to veterans who might otherwise be afraid to seek help because of public perception," Reynolds says.
Reprinted from an article by Jared C. Clark, gradPSYCH, March 2010 Vol. 8. No. 2
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