*This blog has nothing to do with party affiliation, it is about leadership, modeling, and stigma and its consequences.
President Trump has made stigmatizing comments related to mental health during Mental Health Awareness month (May 2017). This is unacceptable leadership behavior on many levels. As the Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces, he has now sent a message to our active duty personnel and veterans that it is ok to call people “nut jobs” and other derogatory names related to mental illness, psychological stress, and behavioral problems. The irresponsible nature of this during Mental Health Awareness Month, and right before Memorial Day when we honor those who have served our country, now sends a message to our active duty personnel and veterans that they should not seek help or they will suffer social or job-related consequences.
Why is this a problem?
You may be wondering why am I making an issue of this? The US Department of Veterans Affairs has the following quick facts (not fake news, just the facts).
- In 2011, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health treatment from VA for mental health related issues.
- The Rand Center for Military Health Policy Research, Invisible Wounds of War, 2008 noted that of the 1.7 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 (20%) suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.
- The American Psychological Association has identified the critical need for mental health professionals trained to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Please review this commentary. http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/military/critical-need.aspx
The commentary goes on to note:
- suicide rates are increasing for returning service members;
- unemployment rates for veterans outpaces the civilian rate;
- brain injuries are linked to PTSD;
- female veterans are particularly likely to suffer from mental health issues related to “military sexual trauma” (20%);
- many in need (about 60-70%) do not seek help;
- stigma associated with mental illness in military communities; and
- long term consequences of unaddressed mental health needs.
Leadership and Stigma
It is well established in the psychological literature that social learning through the modeling by others has an impact on subsequent learning and behavior. When President Trump engages in direct insults to people while using derogatory mental health terms, his subordinates, employees, constituency, and his military receive the message that he is modelling that implies that having a mental illness (caused by serving our country) or stress (caused by serving our country) means you are less of a person, not competent to work, is something to be ashamed of, and should be kept a secret. Furthermore, it gives others permission to act in a similar manner further pushing those who are concerned about seeking help away and reinforces the stigma in the military and in society. Finally, his comments about grabbing women’s genitalia that came to public awareness while he was a presidential candidate further erode female military personnel’s safety in their own units when twenty percent (20%) have already experienced “military sexual trauma”.
Psychology of Performance
Employees’ performance can be negatively impacted by “bullying behavior”, or demeaning comments about their illnesses. It is exacerbated when leadership models this behavior because then it becomes acceptable with no organizational accountability. The consequences are lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, presenteeism, and increased medical costs. The cost of untreated mental illness to employers, families, and society is significant. President Trump’s behavior as a leader in this area is concerning and needs to stop.
This Memorial Day, I ask you to remember those who served and honor those who are still alive by letting them know the pain and suffering they experienced can be healed if they have such symptoms. They deserve our support, compassion, and gratitude. There are many resources available to them, encourage them to use them. Finally, stand up to those such as our President and Commander-In-Chief who model unskilful and unwholesome behavior.
Have a day filled with loving kindness and compassion!
Robert A. Mines, Ph.D., Chairman and Psychologist