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Five Ways You Can Support Veterans’ Mental Health

By December 28, 2019 May 27th, 2020 Blog

Veterans Day is a celebration that honors America’s veterans for their patriotism and willingness to offer their lives for their country. It is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by our military veterans and thank them for their service.

Veterans in the United States come from different eras, fought in different battles, used different weaponry and wore different uniforms, but they all share a common experience: the experience of training, moving from place to place, fighting or training to fight and living a life that is ever-changing.

Due to the unique, and sometimes challenging lifestyle inherent to military life, our veterans often experience many different mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or depression. Here are five ways to help support veterans:

  1. Understand Depression

Major Depressive Disorder  (MDD), also known as depression, is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Among veterans treated by the Veterans Association between 2009 and 2013, approximately  10% had major depressive disorder. If a veteran is severely depressed and/or suicidal, it is important to find them help immediately.

Some people with MDD never seek treatment. However, most people diagnosed with the disorder can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapy, and other methods can effectively treat people with MDD and help them manage their symptoms.

There are several symptoms associated with MDD. These symptoms include: 

  • Feelings of sadness or irritability nearly every day or most days 
  • Loss of interest in most activities once enjoyed 
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Lack of energy or feeling lethargic 
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions 
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Understand Anxiety

Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worrisome thoughts, and physical changes. Other signs and symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • Constant fear of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
  • Shaking or trembling 
  • Hyperventilation (breathing rapidly), sweating, and/or trembling
  • Weakness and exhaustion 
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems 

Some veterans develop anxiety following severe trauma or a life-threatening event. It can manifest itself as a panic attack or overall sense of unease. For others, stressful life events such as transitioning from military to civilian life can lead to anxiety disorders. Many veterans and service members find it hard to “turn off” some of the strategies and behaviors that were necessary for military situations.

  • Understand Suicide

On average, 17 veterans a day commit suicide. In 2017, nearly one in every seven suicides nationally was a veteran. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20% of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year. Unfortunately, the numbers are not showing any significant decrease. Veterans are at risk, and as a nation  everyone needs to support them.

  • Reach out to veterans through Veteran Support Organizations. Organizations such as IAVAVFW and American Legion along with others in your local community which can offer social support can be some of the strongest protective factors against suicide. If a veteran has friends and people to turn to when they need help, they are less likely to die by suicide.
  • If a veteran tells you they are suicidal, take it seriously. Talk to them, encourage them and ask them to seek help from a mental health professional immediately. Share the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) with them. It is available 24/7.
  • Understand PTSD

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Some of the most common events that result in PTSD are serious accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, armed robberies, war/combat, and assault. 

Although PTSD is not unique to the military, it is important to note that in a JAMA Psychiatry study it was found that the rate of PTSD is up to 15 times higher among veterans than among civilians.

There are many different symptoms someone with PTSD may experience. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, they do not have to experience all of the symptoms on the list. Symptoms include: 

  • Intrusive memories: Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event; reliving the traumatic event (flashbacks); distressing dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event; severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the person of the trauma. 
  • Avoidance: Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event; avoiding people, places, activities or things that remind you of the traumatic event. 
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world; hopelessness about the future; memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event; feelings of detachment, lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities; feeling emotionally numb; difficulty maintaining or creating close relationships.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions: Being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard, self-destructive behavior; trouble sleeping and/or concentrating; irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behaviors; overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.

PTSD can happen to anyone at any time and currently affects roughly 3.5% of individuals in the United States. It is also estimated that nearly 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being twice as likely as men. For people suffering from PTSD, these symptoms cause significant anguish and can prohibit them from continuing to carry out their normal daily activities. 

Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event will experience at least one of the symptoms mentioned above. However, for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last for more than a month. Many individuals develop symptoms within the first three months following their trauma, however, symptoms can appear even later. Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will end up with PTSD. It is important to note that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and there is no way to know if a person will or will not experience PTSD symptoms after a trauma. 

  • Understand Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are known as a “signature wound” of the post 9/11 wars, due to blasts from explosive devices. The high rate of TBIs and blast-related concussion events resulting from current combat operations directly impacts the health and safety of individual service members. Veterans may sustain TBIs throughout their lifespan, with the largest increase as the veterans enter into their 70s and 80s; these injuries are often caused by falls and result in high levels of disability. Symptoms can include headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems, and mood changes and mood swings.

A TBI is not always noticeable at first. For this reason, do not assume that all wounds are visible. Memory problems or mood changes could be the result of depression or another mood disorder or it could be a symptom of a  traumatic brain injury. Even a “mild” TBI can cause significant impairment in different areas of someone’s life.

Importance of Early Intervention and Treatment

Any and all mental health problems veterans experience can leave lasting scars that can completely alter their character and outlook on the world for the rest of their lives if left untreated. Seeking treatment can completely turn one’s life around after a traumatic event, giving one the chance to get back to life before their trauma.

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from PTSD. Uncharacteristic behavior can become increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful.

ART International Resolution Therapy ®(ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, only one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing an individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally as well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. Trauma, at the end of the day, is still trauma.

Regardless of how bad things may be, there is always hope, and there is always someone available to help you through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more about the therapy or to find a therapist near you.