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Peers and peer-based interventions in supporting reintegration and mental health among National Guard soldiers: a qualitative study.

Pfeiffer PN, Blow AJ, Miller E, Forman J, Dalack GW, Valenstein M. Peers and peer-based interventions in supporting reintegration and mental health among National Guard soldiers: a qualitative study. Military medicine. 2012 Dec 1; 177(12):1471-6.

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National Guard soldiers experience high levels of mental health symptoms following deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, yet many do not seek treatment. We interviewed 30 National Guard soldiers with prior deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan to assess mental health treatment barriers and the role of peers in treatment engagement. Interview transcripts were analyzed by a multidisciplinary research team using techniques drawn from grounded theory. The following themes were identified: (1) personal acceptance of having a mental health problem rather than treatment access is the major barrier to treatment entry; (2) tightly connected, supportive peer networks can decrease stigma related to mental health problems and encourage treatment; however, soldiers in impoverished or conflicted peer networks are less likely to receive these benefits; and (3) soldiers are generally positive about the idea of peer-based programs to improve treatment engagement, although they note the importance of leadership support, peer assignment, and unit specialty in implementing these programs. We conclude that some, but not all, naturally occurring peer networks serve to overcome stigma and encourage mental health treatment seeking by soldiers. Formal peer-based programs may assist soldiers not sufficiently benefitting from natural peer networks, although there are barriers to implementation.

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