Mental health specialist speaks with a service member in her office.

Mental Health Matters in the Military

Just as physical fitness is a central part of military life, good mental health is as important for your well-being, and military and family readiness. Mental health challenges and issues shouldn't be ignored or hidden. There are lots of resources available to help anyone suffering get diagnosed and get better.

Recognizing signs and addressing challenges early

Start by learning to recognize signs in yourself or in someone close to you. Adults and teens who are suffering from a mental health disorder may display any number of the following signs:

  • Confusion
  • Prolonged sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  •  Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Excessive substance use

Help for you, fellow service members or family members

Reaching out is the first step toward recovery. These resources can get you started:

  • Check your mental health. If you are wondering if you have symptoms of a specific mental health condition, you can complete a brief screening tool and get instant feedback. This tool from the Department of Veterans Affairs is confidential and anonymous; none of the results are stored on your account or sent anywhere.
  • TRICARE is the health care program for military members and their families. The program is divided into three regions (North, South and West), and offers overseas assistance. TRICARE Mental Health Care Services offers outpatient psychotherapy for up to two sessions per week in any combination of individual, family, group or collateral sessions. The TRICARE Military Treatment Facility Locator is the locator tool for military treatment centers.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health provides information on a variety of mental health topics and list current clinical trials that allow persons to access treatment for free. Call 866-615-6464.
  • Mental disorders can lead to substance use disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers information about prevention, treatment, recovery and more.

Mental health for children and youth

Signs in adolescents. Many symptoms in adolescents may be similar to those in adults, but you may notice other characteristics, including:

  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft or vandalism
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death

Signs in younger children and preadolescents. Young children and preadolescents may display some of the following characteristics:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (such as refusing to go to bed or school)
  •  Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Finding help. For children’s mental and behavioral health care, reach out to TRICARE.

Mental and behavioral health concerns and conditions vary greatly in children and adolescents from adults, and special considerations apply for children of military families.

When to step in and help, or ask for help

Don’t let stigma stand in your way of helping — or reaching out. An estimated one in five American adults experience a diagnosable mental health disorder each year. Many of these conditions are common and treatable; yet many people suffer in silence because of shame and stigma. Facing issues early is a sign of strength.

You wouldn't hesitate to seek help for a physical ailment. So reach out for assistance with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, and encourage others to do the same.

If you need help immediately: Suicide is a serious issue for service members and their loved ones — and suffering from a mental health disorder can increase the risk. If you or someone you know is at risk, the Military Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also start a conversation via online chat or text (838255).

Note: Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance use disorders, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.