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A $200 million insult: Army seeks 'shrinks' to meet behavioral health crisis

July 22, 2011
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Editorial: Why the U.S. military’s mental health crisis won’t be solved anytime soon

More than four years after initial news accounts about a “mental health crisis” in the Army, a crisis well known to many in the behavioral health field but not discussed publicly until the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, I was astonished yesterday to see a news release, issued on behalf of the U.S. Army, saying that the Army was "In Search of Shrinks" to help it deal with the problem.

My jaw dropped and it’s been there since. Seriously?

The news release came from Weber Shandwick, Minneapolis, a national PR firm that is part of the AOR McCann Worldgroup team that, in April, was retained by the U.S. Army to serve a one-year, $200 million advertising and marketing budget. Perhaps somewhere in that budget there’s a research project that says behavioral health professionals—including doctoral-level physician/psychiatrists, doctoral-level psychologists, and masters-level social workers and counselors respond to recruitment ads for “shrinks,” but I doubt it.

This news release is easy to find on any of robo-news feeds that gobble up “news” from national PR wires, including PR Newswire, through which this “recruitment” release is delivered to news outlets nationwide. But it won’t be appearing in Behavioral Healthcare, or in our sister publication, Addiction Professional, because it’s an insult to the 40,000-plus readers that we serve.

Because I’m a former PR guy myself, my first response—before writing this—was to contact Weber Shandwick and wonder aloud how the headline came to be, how it had gotten into print, and whether anyone who issued it thought that maybe using the term “shrink” might be a put-down to the intended audience.

The reply was courteous. I was asked to offer “feedback, and assured that “the Army approved it.” But I found that no one there—or in the Army office that approved it—had really given much thought to the use of the term “shrink” in a news release targeted at behavioral health professionals. A thought: Why not use an even more colorful term like “quack”? (I’ll stop there.)

Maybe, I thought, this is part of the problem with the shortage of mental and behavioral healthcare in the Army and throughout the U.S. military, despite the attractive benefits and educational support offered by the military.

Maybe it’s why many behavioral health workers make less than fast food workers, according to the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Maybe it’s why behavioral healthcare services for mental health and addiction treatment get short shrift when money ran low in many state and local budgets.

Or, maybe, it’s why military personnel are just the latest group nationwide to realize that their prospects for getting adequate behavioral healthcare probably won’t change much until the nation—as a whole—shows a little more respect for the people who provide it.

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