What Mental Health Issues Disqualify You from the Military (but are evident in the military)

Are you thinking about a career in the United States Armed Forces, or are you a family member of someone who is? Or perhaps you’re already active? Whatever the case may be, you’re among the many who wonder about preparedness for duty in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard. It’s easy enough to assess physical qualifications, but a large number (yourself included) are concerned about mental and emotional wellbeing.

What may or may not compromise your ability to serve? What mental health issues disqualify you from the military? While we list the conditions below, the intent of this article is to draw attention to the unfortunate irony of how the very same concerns that may make someone “unfit” to serve, may manifest while in service and persist as a veteran. Further, we address how remnants of stigma regarding mental health can further compromise individuals, and what needs to be done to protect veteran, current, and future generations of American servicepersons.

Complicated Irony of How Servicepersons / Veterans Live with the Same Mental Health Issues that Disqualify Individuals from Joining the Military

What Mental Health Issues Disqualify You from the Military?

According to academies and the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the following mental and behavioral health concerns generally disqualify someone from admission:

  • Psychosis (including severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, paranoid personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder, postpartum psychosis, delusional disorder)
  • Any other form of depression requiring medication, outpatient treatment, or hospitalization
  • Impulsivity and conduct disorders
  • Any form of anxiety requiring medication, outpatient treatment, or hospitalization
  • Neurotic, mood, somatoform, dissociative or factitious disorders requiring medication, outpatient treatment, or hospitalization
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention deficit disorders and other learning disabilities that may interfere with perceptual or academic skills past the age of 14 (i.e. dyslexia)
  • Hyperactivity disorders

Mental Health Issues that are Evident in the Military

We covered what mental health issues disqualify an individual from admission in the military, so now we look at which ones are evident within the active serviceperson population. Research shows that mental health issues that may manifest and persist while in service include (but are not exclusive to) the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • Impulsivity
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Somatization

Sources: Military Health System | ScienceDirect | NAMI | U of T | NLM

It should also be noted that one mental health condition may aggravate symptoms of another. For instance, PTSD can aggravate symptoms of ADHD, when the latter was not initially serious enough to disqualify someone from admission into the Armed Forces. Moreover, mental health conditions may cooccur across the spectrum of issues found within active personnel.

Meanwhile, data compiled from our work in the Colorado Military Veterans Project, found the following among veterans in treatment with Kindbridge Behavioral Health:

  • Insomnia affects 53% of the population with a slightly higher prevalence in males
  • Major depression and suicidality accounts for 51% of cases, with a notably higher incidence in males
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is diagnosed in 49% of individuals, evenly distributed across genders
  • Gambling behavior represents 46% of the clinical diagnoses, predominantly observed in males
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) comprises 46% of conditions, with a higher prevalence among males than females
  • Irritability affects 45% of the population, with a slight female predominance
  • Inattention/hyperactivity/impulsivity is diagnosed in 38% of the population, and is more common in males
  • Social phobia is present in 35% of the cases, with males being more affected than females
  • Learning disabilities constitute 31% of diagnoses, and is more frequently diagnosed in females
  • Suicide warning makes up 25% of the conditions, with a slightly higher proportion of male cases

Is it not logical to conclude that the mental/behavioral health disorders observed in the veteran population escalated or manifested during service? At the very least it can be concluded that further investment in research should be considered mission critical.

Cadets and Servicepersons Afraid to Come Forward

In knowing what mental health issues disqualify someone from the military, those enrolled in military academies and enlisted personnel alike may not feel as if they can come forward with concerns about their mental health. They are so dedicated to being in-service that they may choose to suffer and hide their struggles. Of course, this does not do them, nor the Armed Forces, any favors. While strides have been made in addressing the importance of mental health in the military, there is no question that stigma remains across academies and branches of the Armed Forces.

What Needs to be Done

Early Intervention

The aforementioned stigma regarding mental health in the military needs to be removed at ground level. Early intervention must occur in military academies where mental illness continues to be considered a sign of weakness. Mental health discussion regarding interventions, preventative strategies, and healthy coping mechanisms should be layered into curriculums.

Integration of Specialized Support Systems

In 2023, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness initiated implementation of the Brandon Act.  Spearheaded in 2020, signed into law in 2021, and now in effect, the Brandon Act allows active service members to request a mental health evaluation just by making the request to their supervisor.  The serviceperson is not required to explain their motivation for wanting a mental health evaluation. Their supervisor, in turn, is required to ensure that a mental health evaluation is provided as soon as possible and without any roadblocks.  This has opened up the gateway for tremendous investment in mental health across all levels of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Academies and military bases along with organizations for active and veteran populations alike are encouraged to connect to Kindbridge Behavioral Health to discuss customized support systems. Included in these support systems must be condition/disorder specific treatments and in many cases counseling must address comorbidities. For example, Kindbridge’s integrated treatment approach to addressing both gambling behaviors and comorbid anxiety disorder has shown to be effective. The graph below evidences how Generalized Anxiety Disorder scores among veterans in-treatment have dropped after just three tele-health sessions:

What Mental Health Issues Disqualify You from the Military

The initial decrease represents a positive response to treatment or intervention, with subsequent stabilization suggesting that the improvement was maintained over time. The consistent scores between the second and third visits could indicate that the treatment has been effective in managing anxiety symptoms. This example of an integrated treatment approach to addressing mental health issues experienced by active and veteran servicepersons can lead the way for a healthier U.S. military.

Reach out via the contacts provided below to discuss the way forward.

Servicepersons, Veterans, and Branches of the U.S. Military

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

What Mental Health Issues Disqualify You from the Military