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Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness

You’ve got to scratch your head when one of the government’s chief advocates for health care in the Veterans Administration just reinforces the old stigmas associated with mental health concerns. Testifying before a federal judge in San Francisco, Michael Kussman said:

“The number of patients who have adjustment reactions to the experience that they have in Afghanistan or Iraq is very important, but we don’t believe that’s mental illness,” Kussman said. “It would be unfair and inappropriate to stigmatize people with a mental health diagnosis when they are having what most people believe are normal reactions to abnormal situations.”

Well, golly gee Dr. Kussman, are you saying that traumatic reaction to wartime situations isn’t a mental illness? Because posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) surely has existed in one form or another since all wars have ever been fought. Is PTSD simply an “adjustment reaction” (whatever that is)? Or are you saying that an adjustment disorder isn’t a real, diagnosable mental disorder? Because, if you are, you’d be wrong on that account as well.

Or, perhaps worse of all, are you suggesting that because mental disorders remain stigmatized within our society today — especially within the military — we therefore shouldn’t seek to properly diagnose and treat soldiers with real and often serious mental health problems? As the undersecretary of health for the VA, you don’t exactly help reduce the stigma with beliefs like this. One of your jobs is to help reduce the stigma of all health and mental health concerns through education and information. Instead you’re only reinforcing the stigma by suggesting people with mental health disorders are somehow damaged or treated unfairly. And if that’s the case, Mr. Undersecretary, I suggest you work to change the system you head that allows veterans to be treated unfairly because of such a diagnosis.

Having a depressive, traumatic or anxious reaction to combat is actually not a normal reaction (even if some of us believe it should be). And sadly, war and combat fighting is not an “abnormal situation” for a soldier — it is exactly what is expected of them (and what they signed up for).

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need soldiers. But in a perfect world, we would definitely take care of those who fought for us. That especially means not minimizing the effects of wartime, nor reinforcing the stigma of mental illness — a condition that returns with so many of our military men and women who have seen combat.

Read the full article: Official defends VA’s mental health effort

Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Apr 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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