The intensities of war, demand for mental and physical toughness and separation from family make military veterans susceptible to a wide range of mental health risks. A study conducted reported by the American Psychology Association reveals just how widespread military mental health challenges are.
In 2013, there were 1,080 suicide attempts and 245 suicides among active duty service members. A longer-ranging study released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that, from 2008 through 2016, about 6,000 veterans committed suicide each year. The rate of suicide increased to 25.9 percent for veterans during this period. For nonveterans, the increase in the number of suicides climbed just 20.6 percent.
It also noted that 1 in 4 active duty members of the Armed Forces has some signs of a mental health disorder. The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research also found that 20 percent of individuals who served in either Afghanistan or Iraq struggled with major depression or PTSD.
Key Risks to Veterans
Veterans are at risk for a variety of mental health disorders. Mental illness in the military can include:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
One of the most common forms of military mental health illness occurs after traumatic events such as disasters, sexual assault, physical assault or military combat. These events can create long-term negative thought patterns. Over time, individuals who do not manage these feelings and thoughts can develop nightmares, anger, aggressiveness, difficulty sleeping and restlessness. Some turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to soothe their feelings. This can create co-occurring disorders where alcohol or drug abuse couples with mental health disorders.
Major depressive episodes can occur in individuals coming back from a deployment of any type, including combat. In this case, depression is not just feeling sad. It typically causes feelings of helplessness, anger and frustration and difficulty with completing daily tasks.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Though less common, traumatic brain injuries due to a blow to the head can alter brain chemistry. This can go unnoticed for some time until mental health issues develop. In some, this can lead to depression-like symptoms; in others, it can cause mood swings. Many experience fatigue, headaches, memory problems and an inability to concentrate.
Why Are Military Veterans at Risk for Mental Health Disorders?
Military mental health is complex since no single factor impacts every individual. For active members, especially those engaged in wartime activities, the risks of military behavioral health concerns increase significantly. Deployment itself can be a factor in the development of these challenges; however, those engaged in combat are more likely than others to experience adverse effects.
After deployment, many individuals have family and friends for support, but most don’t open up. Like anyone who goes through a long, traumatic event without talking about their feelings, it becomes harder for the individual to process them. This can lead to complications resulting from:
- Embarrassment about service-related mental health disorders
- Fear of being seen as weak for needing help
- Shame over what they experienced, did or, in some cases, did not do
- Lack of understanding of what they are feeling and what they need
- Feeling they will let down their loved ones
The Stigma of Seeking Help
For many veterans, the thought of obtaining help for mental health issues is seen as a failure due to the stigma attached to the need for care. Some men and women leaving the military never seek out help, believing they can manage it on their own because their fellow veterans seem to do so.
Shame, frustration and the need to just go on with their lives can leave men and women unwilling to seek out help. They may also find demographic barriers or false perceptions of these demographics, meaning they do not believe care is available or effective. They may believe they just need to learn to cope with their new life.
Another key aspect of this stigma stems from a belief that seeking care for mental health issues could limit or otherwise negatively affect their career. Although health and mental health challenges can impact anyone’s career, seeking help for therapy or counseling is no longer the deciding factor.
Rules passed by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2014 eliminate the chance that talking to a doctor or having a diagnosis of mental illness will be career-ending. Additionally, seeking treatment for mental health issues does not automatically disqualify an individual from serving, ranking up or obtaining long-term benefits, and it does not automatically limit security clearance.
Sometimes Subpar Service of the Veterans Administration
For many years, the Veterans Administration didn’t offer the type or the amount of care veterans needed for military mental health issues. While programs have long been in place, many did not know about them, and long wait times to see VA doctors were common. Additionally, many believe the programs offered by the VA were inadequate and inferior to programs available to others.
What Is the Danger of Not Getting Help?
If a family member was struggling with shortness of breath, they would seek care for heart or lung health. Individuals with diabetes would obtain help for their condition.
Like other types of health issues, mental health issues need to be treated to prevent severe consequences. These can include outward bursts of anger and violence and can result in mental health that worsens until a psychotic break occurs. In some situations, it can create a negative career path, substance abuse and relationship problems. At the worst, individuals with untreated mental health conditions can lash out with violence towards others or suicide attempts.
Treatment Continues to be Lacking
Access to mental health treatment has limitations. Military veterans may see the VA as their only option for care, which is no longer the case. While in the past, many men and women only had access to health care through VA offices and hospitals, care has expanded to provide access to a larger number of providers. Tricare coverage is now expanded, providing a wide range of treatment options beyond the actual VA.
Seeking Care from a Mental Health Rehabilitation Program
Recognizing the risks to a person’s future and well-being, military veterans need to consider the possibility of seeking care beyond the VA. Programs at mental health treatment facilities across the U.S. can provide opportunities for patients through intensive inpatient and outpatient care, and they can also address co-occurring conditions.
The benefits of seeking care outside of the VA for military professionals include:
- Potentially immediate help for mental health crisis
- Cutting-edge and more advanced treatment options
- Intensive inpatient and outpatient care
- Customized treatment plans for a wide range of needs
- Research-based methods for treatment, including solutions such as neuro-rehab services, medical integration, fitness and nutrition and medication management
Every program is different, as are everyone’s needs. With the help of a specialized treatment program, individuals in the military may be able to find a higher quality of care for their unique needs.
This type of care may now available through TRICARE, the military’s insurance plan. TRICARE policyholders can seek out care through a wide range of approved facilities, including FHE Health.
Seek Care from FHE Health for Military
If you or your loved one is battling military mental health challenges, seek out help from our trusted, dedicated professionals at FHE Health. We provide cutting-edge treatment designed through customized plans for our patients. To learn more about our care or to schedule a consultation, call our compassionate counselors 24/7 at (844) 299-0618.