Leaving the battlefield isn’t always easy for members of the military. Even when they return home, some face an ongoing fight.
We honor our veterans every year on November 11. This year, take some time to learn more about the mental health issues facing our service members and how you can help support them.
What kind of mental health struggles do veterans face?
Roughly one in five veterans experience some sort of mental health issue like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many also experience a traumatic brain injury while on active duty, which can lead to mental health issues over time.
If left untreated, these persistent issues can have profound impacts on veterans and their loved ones. RAND, a military research organization, reports that service members diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury also experience higher rates of physical health problems and higher rates of suicide.
It’s important, however, that veterans understand there is help available.
"Veterans should know: There’s nothing wrong with you," says Juliann Jeppsen, a behavioral health supervisor at Huntsman Mental Health Institute and a member of the Army Reserve. "Many mental health issues are a symptom of over-adapting. You just need a little help adapting to your new situation, and that’s what mental health professionals can help with."
Signs a veteran may be struggling
Symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety can vary among people, but sudden changes in a person’s behavior can often be a sign they’re experiencing some mental health issue.
When PTSD develops, it occurs with the following four symptom clusters:
- Re-experiencing events
- Frightening thoughts
- Internal and external avoidance
- Drinking to not think about the experience
- Staying away from people, places, or things that remind you of the experience
- Changes in cognition and mood
- Trouble remembering the event
- Seeing other people as dangerous
- Feelings of guilt and blame about the event towards yourself or someone else
- Disassociation (zoning out or feeling like you’re in a dream)
- Arousal and reactivity
- Easily startled
- Feeling anxious
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry outbursts
There can be differences in how men, women, and children experience or show these symptoms.
Common signs of depression and anxiety include increased irritability, changes in sleeping patterns, worries that turn into intrusive thoughts that won’t leave your mind, and a lack of desire to participate in activities you enjoy.
How can we help veterans who are struggling?
It can be difficult to know when a veteran is struggling. One of the most important things we can all do is listen. There’s still stigma attached to speaking about mental health, and it’s up to all of us to reduce that through open, nonjudgmental dialogue.
You can also help integrate veterans into more social activities. Many people experiencing PTSD, depression, or anxiety will turn to isolation, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Finally, keep an eye out and reach out for professional help when necessary. Understanding the symptoms and recognizing them early can save lives and help our veterans live happier, healthier lives.
If you or a veteran you know needs support, reach out. There are a number of crisis lines, warmlines, and chat services that can offer immediate help. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also offers several services for current and former service members. Use the VA's Location Finder tool and ask to speak with the chief of the mental health service, the local mental health recovery coordinator, or the Patient Advocate.