Ask the Expert - Brian Klassen, PhD: How Can We Get Society to Talk More Openly About Mental Health?

How can we get people to talk more openly about PTSD and related symptoms of TBI? Why is there still a stigma? What can we do? Dr. Klassen answers your questions about mental health treatment.

Brian Klassen, PhD, is the Clinical Director of the Road Home Program, part of the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Care Network.

For information about treatments for PTSD please visit The Treatment Hub.

Hi, I’m Dr. Klassen, I’m a clinical psychologist, and here’s our question: “How can we get people to talk more openly as a society about mental health issues like PTSD or related symptoms of TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury?”

 That’s a fantastic question because as a clinical psychologist I think a lot about stigma. And I think a lot about how stigma harms people and kind of keeps them in the dark on how understandable and how normal in some ways mental health struggles are.

I think it’s very much part of the human experience. I mean, many, many, many people in the general public, in the military community, struggle at times in their life with thoughts of depression or anxiety. Even thoughts of suicide are common for some people from time to time. And so, I think the more open we can be with our own friends and family on these issues, the more it will lead to a sea change in society on being more progressive and more open on these issues.

I think another important component of that is, that we in the mental health profession really have to start talking, I think, more forcefully about how effective treatment can be. I think a couple generations ago there was this thought that if you had a mental illness, you were crazy, that you had all these bizarre thoughts, and that really the best you could hope for would be to get onto disability and sort of like eke out the rest of your life.

But we know that that’s not true. I mean, with even short courses of therapy we can get people back to work, we can get them reconnected with their family, and also, doing rich meaningful things that make life worth living. And so, I think it’s kind of this like multi-layered approach. Right?

I think we all have to be more open and even disclosing ourselves, like when appropriate to people you trust, that you’re having problems with depression or anxiety, or you’ve had trauma exposure in the past. But also I think it’s incumbent on the mental health profession to really kind of show what we can do and to show that treatment works and that it’s available and that it really can help in meaningful ways. So, thank you for the question.

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Posted on BrainLine October 13, 2021. Reviewed October 13, 2021.

About the author: Brian Klassen, PhD

Brian Klassen, Ph.D., is the Clinical Director for The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and Their Families at Rush University in Chicago, Illinois. Brian spent his formative years training at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, completing rotations in chronic pain management, residential substance use disorder treatment, and PTSD. Brian has special expertise in providing front-line treatments for PTSD, including Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Processing Therapy.

Headshot of Dr. Brian Klassen