Understanding Veteran Mental Health and How You Can Help

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Post-traumatic stress, or PTS, is a disorder that has demanded increased attention over the years in both the medical and military communities, especially after the end of the Vietnam War.  Veterans who suffer from PTS may have experiences that trigger unwanted memories that can result in heightened reactions, anxiety, and depression.

The same symptoms associated with PTS were previously attributed to informal concepts, such as Shell Shock and Operational Exhaustion. The recognition of PTS and its association with veterans led to an influx of concern and consideration for veterans, particularly those who’d seen combat. 

Veterans are at high risk for developing PTS or a depressive disorder. According to the RAND Corporation’s Invisible Wounds report, 18.5% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTS or depression, and 19.5% report having a traumatic brain injury (TBI). RAND reports that among those veterans, only about half seek treatment, and only half of those who seek care get the minimal amount of adequate care.

In the past, mental health has been stigmatized or completely ignored. As modern psychology continues to develop, mental health is increasingly being seen as equally as important as physical health. New medicines have been developed to help combat mental health disorders. New therapy methods offer additional coping mechanisms and allow participants to better understand their problems.

There is still much more to be done when it comes to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health issues and encouraging veterans to reach out. According to an article by Managed Healthcare Executive, veterans often shy away from mental health treatment because of the remaining stigma around mental health and a military culture that encourages strength in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, unaddressed mental health issues often lead to other issues, such as substance abuse, isolation, and even suicide.

It’s important to be aware of the mental well-being of the veterans around you. Treated or untreated, understanding veteran mental health helps mitigate worsening symptoms. Knowing the symptoms of common veteran mental health disorders, as well as having basic skills to interact with a veteran with a mental health issue, can create trust and increase the possibility for success in helping them find employment and rebuild their lives. 

The VA takes veteran mental health very seriously, offering an array of free programs and resources for veterans to access. They keep an up-to-date Mental Health page on their website covering a number of topics, as well as a useful tab that aids veterans who aren’t sure where to start with getting help.

MentalHealth.gov is another valuable website, compiling multiple resources for veterans, as well as general mental health information. It also covers basic definitions around mental health and describes ways to find support. 

Recognizing and addressing mental health has improved tremendously over the past few decades. However, we as a society still don’t treat mental health with the same gravity as physical illness. As mental health studies continue to evolve, you can be a voice for its importance and help advocate for veterans to get the help they need.

Refer to the resources below for information about mental health:

MentalHealth.gov homepage – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/
MentalHealth.gov help for Service Members and Their Families – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans#veterans
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health page – https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/index.asp
Invisible Wounds Report by RAND – https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9336.html
Community Organization Model Tackles Veterans’ Mental Health Issues by Managed Healthcare Executive – https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/military-mental-health/community-organization-model-tackles-veterans-mental-health-issues
PTSD History and Overview – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/history_ptsd.asp