Behavioral Health Needs and Barriers to Care Among Soldiers Who Report Past Year Sexual Harassment and/or Sexual Assault
Background: Sexual harassment and sexual assault (SH/SA) continue to be a problem in the military despite extensive efforts to mitigate incidents. The mental health needs of military SH/SA survivors are often unmet due to stigma, military cultural values related to self-reliance, and logistical barriers. This secondary analysis assessed data related to the prevalence of past-year SH/SA across demographics, identified the mental health needs among those who experienced it, and ascertained the perceived barriers to treatment among members of an Army brigade combat team (BCT).Methods: For this analysis, any affirmative response to either 1) past-year sexual harassment, and/or 2) past-year sexual assault was combined to create a past-year SH/SA indicator variable. Mental health outcomes included major depression, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, alcohol use, and insomnia. Perceived barriers to treatment outcomes included stigma, self-reliance, and logistical barriers. Descriptive statistics, chi-square, and logistical regression were used to report findings.Results: SH/SA incidents were concentrated among young (17-24) junior enlisted (E1-E4) female soldiers; SH/SA survivors reported psychological problems at a higher rate compared to non-victims (73% vs. 31%); and SH/SA survivors reported higher occurrences of stigma and barriers to care compared to non-victims.Conclusion:The results of this study were mixed. The SH/SA survivors that indicated psychological concerns reported higher rates of stigma and barriers to care but sought mental health care at higher rates than non-victims that indicated psychological concerns. The gap between SH/SA victimization and BH utilization needs improving as unmet BH needs can lead to a myriad of issues. Changing perspectives on self-reliance as it relates to coping with mental health problems is a way to address this gap. Leaders must emphasize that mental health care is a form of self-reliance, while military mental health professionals must implement effective self-care initiatives and promote available resources to aid soldiers in overcoming their mental health problems.