Frequently Asked Questions

What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion, and/or behavior. Mental illness is treatable, and the vast majority of individuals with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives.

How common is mental illness?
Mental illness is fairly common. In a given year, nearly one in five U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness, and about one in 24 has a serious mental illness.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with special training in psychiatry. A psychiatrist is able to treat mental disorders with psychotherapy and prescribe mediations and other medical treatments. A psychologist usually has an advanced degree, most commonly in clinical psychology, and often has extensive training in research or clinical practice. Psychologists treat mental disorders with psychotherapy, and some specialize in psychological testing and evaluation.

What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a term for a variety of treatment techniques that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Most psychotherapy takes place with a licensed and trained mental health care professional and a patient meeting one-on-one or with other patients in a group setting. Many mental health professionals also offer psychotherapy for families and couples.

Does psychotherapy work?
Research shows that most people (about 75%) who receive psychotherapy experience symptom relief and are better able to function in their lives.

What kind of mental health professionals can provide psychotherapy?
Many types of mental health professionals are able to provide psychotherapy, but each profession has its own educational and training requirements. Mental health professionals who can provide psychotherapy include:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Licensed counselors (specialties include marriage and family counseling, school counseling, community counseling, and substance abuse counseling)
  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs)
  • Other social workers
  • Advanced psychiatric nurses

How do I know whether I'm experiencing "normal" emotions (e.g., sadness, grief, anxiousness) versus having a mental disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety) that requires treatment?
Generally, a mental disorder is diagnosed based on the presence of a minimum number of symptoms and their frequency and duration. For example, depression is diagnosed when (1) five symptoms are present, including low mood and loss of pleasure or interest; (2) they are present most of the day, every day; (3) they are present for at least two weeks.

Even if you don't have a diagnosable mental disorder requiring treatment, it never hurts to talk to a mental health professional. Being able to process even "normal" emotions isn't always easy on our own. Having someone to listen can help us understand our own thoughts and feelings, and a mental health professional can offer helpful coping strategies and stress management techniques that anyone can benefit from.

How will my career in the military be impacted if I seek help from Mental Health?
Many service members are worried that their career will suffer or their privacy will be compromised if they seek help from Mental Health. The truth is, for the vast majority of people who make the decision to seek help, not only are their careers protected, but by treating their mental health problems, it may help them avoid negative behaviors that could damage their career. In fact, seeking help often improves performance, and seeking help early prevents problems from building and becoming overwhelming. While it is true that a minority of people who receive mental health care will experience some negative impact to their career, it is not necessarily the mental health care that is contributing to career problems. Rather, people who seek mental health care may have experienced behavioral or disciplinary problems that often result in negative impact to their career. Recent studies have also shown that seeking help early is less likely to lead to negative career impacts.

What is the confidentiality policy in the military for those who seek help from Mental Health?
Mental Health providers are required to maintain confidentiality for service members in non-duty status, and those in duty status have limits to confidentiality based on safety and mission concerns. Mental Health providers can only notify commanders in the following situations IAW DoDI 6490.08:

  • Harm to self
  • Harm to others
  • Harm to mission
  • Special personnel (i.e., Personnel Reliability Program (PRP))
  • Inpatient care is needed
  • Acute medical conditions that interfere with duty
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Command-directed mental health evaluations
  • Other special circumstances (see DoDI 6490.08)

What are my options for seeking mental health care in the military?
Many resources are service-specific, and members can check with their local installation for a full list. For all service members, however, a good place to start is primary care. A primary care provider can evaluate and treat many mental disorders and refer for further treatment when necessary.

Some resources that are available at most installations, regardless of branch of service, include:

  • Mental Health Clinic
  • Chaplain Corps
  • Military OneSource

Most installations will also have specific resources for substance abuse, sexual assault, and family-related issues.