INTRODUCTION: The relationship between mental health symptoms, stigmatising beliefs about mental health and help seeking is complex and poorly understood.
METHOD: 1636 UK Armed Forces personnel provided study data immediately after deployment (T1) and approximately 6 months later (T2). Stigmatising beliefs were assessed using an eight-item scale previously used in studies of UK military personnel. Symptoms of probable common mental disorder, probable post-traumatic stress disorder and subjective stressful, emotional, relationship and family problems were evaluated at T1 and T2. Help seeking during deployment was assessed at T1 and post-deployment help seeking at T2. Alcohol use and subjective alcohol problems were assessed at T2 only.
RESULTS: Reporting a probable mental health disorder or potentially harmful alcohol use following deployment was both significantly associated with higher levels of stigmatising beliefs. The reported degree of stigma was associated with changes in mental health symptom levels; compared to those who were never classified as a probable mental health disorder case, recovered cases experienced significantly lower levels of stigmatisation, whereas new onset cases reported significantly higher levels.
CONCLUSION: The way that individuals report mental health stigmatisation is not static; rather stigma fluctuates in proportion to the frequency and severity of psychological symptoms. These results suggest that public health stigma-reduction strategies which aim to promote engagement with mental health services should be focused towards people who are experiencing worsening mental health. Our results suggest that willing volunteers who have recovered from a mental-ill-health episode may be well placed to assist in the delivery of such a strategy.