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Can AboutFace Really Turn Veterans' Lives Around?

Despite experiencing significant distress and impairment, treatment-seeking is surprisingly low among Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric conditions.1 Stigma is a major barrier to seeking mental health treatment2 and this issue is likely to be particularly salient among service members concerned about the impact of disclosing a mental illness on their military career. In 2012, the National Center for PTSD launched AboutFace , a website featuring stories from Veterans and their family members who have experienced PTSD, and VA clinicians who treat PTSD. Spanning six decades of military experience, Veterans share their personal stories about PTSD, the treatment process, and how treatment has improved their lives. Partners, children, and friends talk about what it’s like to live with someone with PTSD. Mental health providers explain what PTSD is, answer common questions about PTSD, and describe current best treatment options. Using a web-based video gallery of Veterans, AboutFace was designed to help Veterans recognize their PTSD, reduce stigma, and motivate treatment-seeking. To date, over a million users have accessed the site, but does it work?

Drs. Anouk Grubaugh and Ken Ruggiero from the Charleston VAMC teamed with Dr. Jessica Hamblen from the National Center for PTSD to find out. An HSR&D-funded pilot study found that Veterans with PTSD would access AboutFace when recommended to them at intake and that attitudes towards mental illness and treatment-seeking improved from baseline to follow-up. Now, an HSR&D-funded randomized controlled trial is examining whether Veterans randomized to AboutFace will be more likely to initiate and complete treatment relative to those receiving usual care for PTSD. Key stakeholder interviews will also be conducted to optimize future implementation. Outcomes are not yet available, but if effective, AboutFace has the potential to increase access to care through the promotion of testimonials consistent with hope and recovery.

  1. Hoge CW, et al. “Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems and Barriers to Care,” US Army Medical Department Journal 2008; 7-17.
  2. Clement S, Schauman O, Graham T, et al. “What is the Impact of Mental Health-related Stigma on Help-seeking? A Systematic Review of Quantitative and Qualitative Studies,” Psychological Medicine 2015; 45(1):11-27.

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