Officers Undercut Behavioral Health Stigma for Service Members

June 5, 2014

The stigma associated with seeking behavioral and mental health treatment prevents many people from getting the care they need, particularly our nation’s wounded warriors returning from combat with invisible injuries. Commissioned Corps officers serving under the DoD-USPHS Partnership for Psychological Health are helping service members, veterans, and their families overcome this stigma and increase access to behavioral health services.

One such officer is CDR Meghan Corso, a Clinical Health Psychologist stationed at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Falls Church, VA. She is leading the Navy’s Behavioral Health Integration Program (BHIP) that embeds behavioral health providers into the Navy and Marine Patient Centered Medical Homes. Under this approach, each patient works with a team of providers–physicians, nurses, pharmacists, behavioral health professionals, and others–to develop a comprehensive, personalized health care plan.

Unlike traditional behavioral and mental health care that relies on the patient to seek specialized care, BHIP is proactive and prevention-oriented. “Through effective and efficient treatment of mental health and health behavior concerns within the medical home, we are able to address those problems for a patient right then and there in coordination with their primary care provider,” says CDR Corso.

BHIP is designed to overcome barriers that traditionally impede patients from accessing behavioral or mental health care, such as dealing with a perceived stigma about this type of care or navigating the referral system. According to CDR Corso, “bringing mental health care to the primary care level where every patient sees this as a normal part of taking care of themselves really allows us to de-stigmatize seeking mental health treatment.”

CDR Corso’s ultimate goal is to stand up BHIP across the entire Navy enterprise. Her roles and responsibilities vary from budgeting and hiring to training and direct clinical supervision for the behavioral health professionals serving BHIP, also known as Internal Behavioral Health Consultants (IBHCs) and Behavioral Health Care Facilitators (BHCFs). Furthermore, CDR Corso is managing the placement of IBHCs at 80 clinics with the capacity to see 10 patients per day for issues such as PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and more. “We will potentially serve 800 patients each day. That’s phenomenal in terms of the number of people who will finally be able to address a concern that has gone unaddressed, as the majority of mental health concerns do these days,” notes CDR Corso.

By increasing access to care, BHIP is also helping providers catch problems earlier. “We can catch stress related symptoms that might later evolve into something more complicated, like depression or PTSD. The earlier we can intervene, there’s less of a chance for these symptoms to lock in and start to generalize over to other areas of the patient’s life,” says CDR Ingrid Pauli, also a Clinical Health Psychologist serving alongside CDR Corso to develop and deliver training to IBHCs.

All Commissioned Corps officers are called to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation. “It is personally and professionally fulfilling to provide this immediate care, especially to those who have served our country,” says CDR Corso.

Page Last Modified on 7/7/2014