Help-seeking for mental health issues in deployed Canadian Armed Forces personnel at risk for moral injury
Additional Document Info
Objective: Potentially morally injurious experiences (PMIE) (events that transgress an individual's subjective moral standards) have been associated with psychologically distressing moral emotions such as shame and guilt. Military leaders and clinicians have feared that those with PMIEs may be less likely to seek help due to the withdrawing nature of shame/guilt; however, to date, help-seeking patterns of military personnel with PMIEs has not been explored. Our objective is to address this research gap. Method: Data from a nationally-representative mental health survey of active Canadian military personnel were analysed. To assess the association between exposure to three PMIEs and past-year help-seeking across different provider categories (i.e. professionals, para-professionals (those delegated with mental health advisory tasks but are not licenced to practice as medical professionals), non-professionals), a series of logistic regressions were conducted, controlling for exposure to other deployment and non-deployment-related psychological trauma, psychiatric variables, military factors, and sociodemographic variables. Analytical data frame included only personnel with a history of Afghanistan deployment (N = 4854). Results: Deployed members exposed to PMIEs were more likely to seek help from their family doctor/general practitioner (OR = 1.72; 95%CI = 1.25-2.36), paraprofessionals (OR = 1.72; 95%CI = 1.25-2.36), and non-professionals (OR = 1.44; 95%CI = 1.06-1.95) in comparison to members not exposed to PMIEs. Those exposed to PMIEs were also more likely to seek professional care from the civilian health care system (OR = 1.94; 95%CI = 1.27-2.96). Conclusion: Contrary to long-held, but untested, assumptions regarding the impact of PMIEs on help-seeking, we found those with PMIEs are more likely to seek help from gatekeeper professionals (i.e. general practitioners), para-professionals, and non-professionals rather than specialized mental health professionals (e.g. psychologists). Increased utilization of civilian professionals raises concerns that active military members may be avoiding military health services. Clinically, this highlights the need to increase awareness of moral injury to ensure that actively serving military members are provided with appropriate advice and treatment.
• Military members exposed to potentially morally injurious experiences (PMIEs) were more likely to seek help from gatekeeper professionals and non-professionals rather than specialized mental health professionals.• Exposure to “ill or injured women or children who they were unable to help” seemed to be driving the increased help-seeking among those with PMIEs.• Compared to members not exposed to PMIEs, those with PMIEs were almost twice as likely to seek professional care from the civilian health care system.