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Study finds troops shy away from mental health care

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. military personnel fear that seeking help for mental health problems could harm their careers, according to a survey released Wednesday.

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An Iraq war veteran takes one of the four medications he is prescribed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three of five members of the military worry that it would have at least some impact, according to the small online survey conducted for the American Psychiatric Association. About half said they thought other people would think less of them if they sought help for mental health problems.

The report was released a day before a scheduled announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates aimed at encouraging more service members to seek help for post-combat stress.

Pentagon officials said troops who file for security clearances will no longer have to answer a question on the standard application about whether they have been treated for combat-related mental health issues. Currently, if service members say they have received treatment, they must answer the question in an in-depth interview with a security agent.

Dr. Carolyn Robinowitz, president of the APA, called the figures in the survey "alarming" and urged Congress to devote more money to treating mental health problems arising from service in combat zones.

One in four of the troops surveyed said he or she knew "nothing at all about effective mental health treatments for issues that may arise from their service in a war zone," Robinowitz said.

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She said a military culture that emphasizes toughness could hinder efforts to get troops to seek help.

"The military has done a good job of having a lot of educational materials around," she said, but she is not sure the information "filtered down" to the people who need it.

An Army psychiatrist admitted that it is a challenge to get people to seek help.

"Stigma is a problem. We recognize that," said Col. Elisabeth Cameron Ritchie of the Army surgeon general's office. "Anything we can do to decrease the stigma, we want to do."

A clear majority of troops rated their own mental health as good or excellent, but many reported regularly experiencing common symptoms of mental illness, including difficulty sleeping at least twice a week and a lack of interest in daily activities at least twice a week.

The findings came on the heels of a much larger study by the RAND Corp., which found that nearly one in five service members returning from Afghanistan or Iraq had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, but only about half of them sought treatment.

That study, "Invisible Wounds of War," also said troops feared that seeking help could harm their careers.

The APA study, the Military Mental Health Survey, polled troops' spouses as well as service personnel.

One spouse, Monique Rizer, said she experienced migraines and numbness in her face after being left alone with two young children when her husband deployed to Iraq.

She saw doctors even though, she said, "I had a feeling there wasn't a neurological problem."

She began to talk with other military spouses about her problems, she said, and was surprised to find that not only were others experiencing stress, some had the same symptoms.

"I was really surprised to find out many of them were going through the same things I was going through. Nobody was really admitting it was more than we could handle," she said.

The survey of 78 members of the military and 113 spouses was conducted online by Harris Interactive on March 5-18. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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