Veterans Day & Military Mental Health

Thursday November 11th is Veteran’s Day. With respect, honor, and gratitude for the sacrifices that you have made, I would like to recognize and thank Veterans and Active-Duty members for serving our country.

There are currently approximately 19 million veterans, making up just under 10% of the US adult population. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, while the veteran population is on the decline, the number of female veterans is on the rise. With 9.2 percent of veterans who identify as female in 2018, it is projected that female veterans will be numbered at 13.5 percent in 2030 and 17.0 percent in 2040.

While mental health impacts 1 in 5 Americans in a given year, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are three primary health concerns that impact those who have served in the military. Post 9-11 veterans were found to have the highest rates of service-connected disability. Associated concerns such as suicide, substance use, and interpersonal violence are also common.

As a therapist who has friends and family (including women) who have served and are active-duty members, I can relate to experiences that are impacting military and their families—

  • Months of military deployment, nearly a year and sometimes multiple deployments
  • The impact of witnessing a unit member killed during combat and other traumatic experiences such as experiencing or witnessing sexual assault
  • Managing conflicting emotions such as sense of futility in war, irritability/ anger, depression, and grief/ loss
  • Returning home to civilian life, only to find that life has “moved on” (e.g. partner left, kids grown up)–difference in parenting, separation/ divorce, and infidelity are common concerns
  • Coping with PSTD-symptoms and adjustment to life in general; turning to substance use to numb the pain, which often only exacerbates other areas of concern
  • Difficulties with triggers (such as gunfire, explosions), impacting difficulties sleeping, nightmares, and hypervigilance
  • Chronic health concerns associated with injuries such as TBI (e.g., headache, memory problems, fatigue, sudden mood swings)
  • Reluctance in seeking help, or opening up to family/ friends

Thankfully, changes to military policies in recent years have been made to promote good physical and mental health. Despite multiple stressors, most veterans demonstrate significant resiliency. I have great admiration for their strength, grit, altruism, and determination of veterans (as well as their families). Here is a great resource for keeping families strong: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/family-relationships/family-life/keeping-your-family-strong/keeping-your-family-strong-essentials/

Resources:

If you are having thoughts of suicide: the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.

If there is an immediate life-threatening mental health crisis, immediate go to a military or civilian emergency room for acute care or call 911.

If you are seeking counseling: Military One Source  at 1-800-342-9647 is a resource available for military members and their families.

If you are seeking a provider to discuss medical and mental health concerns: try talking to your primary care physician.

If you are seeking a specialist on-site [on the military base] try seeking care through Embedded-Behavioral-Health teams. Consider talking to a specialist in veteran and military mental health or consider seeking a civilian therapist for a new perspective and support with one of more of the following–

  • Developing new habits and coping strategies as you adjust to civilian life
  • Connecting with others, including other veterans and military families
  • Finding an area of passion and take steps to cultivate this
  • Seeking out support to process your experiences and emotions
  • Treating underlying medical concerns and substance use
  • Connecting with spiritual/ religious supports
  • Reconnect with family and friends, forming meaningful connections and new memories

Written by Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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