Veterans are Less Likely to Seek Mental Health Counseling than Active-Duty Military Members

By on November 11, 2018

According to recent survey findings from the University of Phoenix, while more than 90 percent of all veterans and active-duty service members believe mental health is as important as physical health, there are significant differences in the likelihood to seek help. Only 30 percent of veterans have sought or considered mental health counseling compared to 72 percent of military personnel currently serving. 

Old stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental health counseling might be preventing veterans from actually acquiring the help they need. When asked about their perceptions of counseling, 89 percent of active military members believe people who receive professional counseling generally get somewhat or a lot better, while only 66 percent of veterans feel the same. 

There has been a fundamental shift in the military regarding attitudes on mental health and we have seen real progress in reducing the stigmas associated with professional counseling. However, for veterans, that has not translated into a shift in the perception of mental health. Many of our veterans served in a culture where talking about your feelings or seeking help was not widely accepted.

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Changing Perceptions of Mental Health Counseling

Active-duty military personnel is more open to seeking mental health counseling than previous generations of veterans. This change may be based on different experiences as the culture is changing to one of acceptance and today’s military leadership is speaking openly about mental health. 

The University of Phoenix survey found that 91 percent of active-duty service members say that their leadership openly discusses the importance of addressing mental health concerns. Comparatively, only 23 percent of veterans say that their leadership openly discussed the importance of mental health while they were in the service.

While mental health culture has undergone a positive shift for active-duty service men and women, the survey responses show we can change the culture for veterans as well. When asked what resources they would use to manage mental health, veterans mentioned access to free counseling (39 percent) most often. In addition, friends, family, and peers have a strong influence on veterans’ perceptions of receiving counseling. Fifty-eight percent of veterans said that they would be encouraged to seek professional counseling if a close colleague, friend or family member spoke about their experience receiving counseling. 

One organization leading the charge in changing the culture of mental health and offering resources is Give an Hour. The organization provides free, confidential mental health care, and support to military members, veterans and their loved ones. In addition to connecting veterans with mental health resources, the organization has launched educational initiatives to change the conversation about mental health, so that those suffering emotionally are better able to seek and receive care. 

“This survey data is encouraging because it validates what we see in communities around the country – that we can change negative perceptions associated with mental health challenges and seeking professional help by having conversations and sharing our experiences,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour. “While we are definitely making progress within the military community, we must continue to change the broader culture if we are to succeed in saving lives and addressing the emotional pain experienced by some of our veterans. In order to remove the barriers that prevent those in need from receiving the care they deserve, we must all value our mental health just as we do our physical health.”

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health services, there are several resources available. The University of Phoenix operates six counseling centers in five states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., Nev., and Utah) that offer free services to anyone in the community, including veterans. Additionally, Give an Hour harnesses the generosity of nearly 7,000 mental health professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to help veterans, service members and their families. If you would like to help change the culture of mental health in America, please visit

About the Author:

Retired Lt. Col Dr. Samantha Dutton served in the Air Force for 27 years. During her service, Dr. Dutton directed, led, and evaluated a full spectrum of mental health operations for service members and their families. She now serves as a program director for the University of Phoenix® College of Humanities and Sciences.


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Veterans are Less Likely to Seek Mental Health Counseling than Active-Duty Military Members