Theory of Planned Behavior and Active Duty Air Force Members' Mental Health Help-Seeking

Ethan C. Engelhardt, Graeme Bicknell, Mark Oliver, Chris Flaherty, Katelynn Line, Erika King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Although military members often encounter significant atypical stressors while serving, many service members are still reluctant to seek mental health (MH) treatment. Help-seeking behavior for MH needs is a rising concern for active duty Air Force personnel. Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are just a few issues that military members deal with, but things like stigma, attitudes toward MH, and behavioral control might keep these individuals from seeking services. This study utilizes the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to identify better and understand barriers to the help-seeking behavior of active duty Air Force members. Materials and Methods: The 2017 Air Force Community Feedback Tool was used for this study. This confidential survey was completed by a large sample of the military population (N = 10,705). The survey was used to examine relationships between the TPB-related variables and respondents with mood problems identifying a need for professional counseling, seeking MH services, and reporting that the services met their needs. Multiple linear and binary logistic regression models were utilized to analyze findings from this sample. Results: This study highlights how attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control impact help-seeking behavior for these individuals. Findings include the MH providers' good reputations, wait times for services, ease of access to care, and negative experiences with supervisor permission, all of which showed a statistically significant impact on helpseeking behavior. Dependent variables included "I need professional counseling," "I contacted a MH care provider in the past year to try to meet this need," and "How much the MH care provider helped you meet your needs." Each of these variables had statistically significant relationships with the connecting variables of the TPB. Conclusions: Findings from this study reveal how attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control play an essential role in an active duty Air Force member's decision to seek help for MH concerns. This study suggests that active duty military members are less concerned about the belief that seeking MH care could harm their reputations and more aware of the potential negative reputations of MH clinics. Finally, actionable steps are outlined to better support help-seeking behavior, which might be recommended to better train and encourage military leaders to address the MH needs of themselves and the members of their units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2217-E2222
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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