Driving down the interstate, it's not uncommon to see bumper stickers displaying a simple yet powerful message: Support our Troops. Yellow ribbons tied to trees and mailboxes also serve to provide a sense of support and solidarity to those men and women serving overseas. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, flags fly high above countless American homes and businesses. Despite these public displays of support, however, many veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to fight a new battle alone: adjusting to life outside of a warzone and coping with the mental health issues that are rampant among veterans.
Depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are the most common mental and emotional challenges faced by veterans adjusting to life back home. In fact, an estimated 1 in 3 soldiers will suffer from PTSD-- which can cause flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and severe emotional distress-- upon returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan. Though the number of veterans suffering from these ailments is staggering, many of them suffer in silence-- 50 percent don't seek treatment at all. Additionally, 22 veterans take their own lives each day, perhaps feeling that suicide is the only escape from their mental anguish.
So, how do we show these veterans that our support doesn't end when they're back on American soil?
Some veterans advocate groups say that outreach programs targeting family members is a good first step. According to Ray Muniz, Veterans Outreach Coordinator for the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Center: "...those loved ones, they’re the ones that are seeing this individual perhaps suffering from nightmares at night, (displaying) the irritability, their isolation, things that would normally cause a red flag for someone, but they may not be able to do that because they may not be familiar with the symptoms..."
Thus, providing information and education regarding PTSD and other mental and emotional health problems to family members of veterans may allow these family members to more easily recognize symptoms when they present themselves. The recognition of troublesome symptoms early on can lead to an increased likelihood of veterans seeking treatment or therapy in a more timely fashion.
Veteran Evan Bick, who was an infantry platoon leader in the Iraq war, enrolled in the Doctor of Psychology Program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and subsequently became involved in the school's Train Vets to Treat Vets program. Bick calls for more veterans to get involved in the treatment of mental illnesses faced by their fellow veterans: "Veterans...who summon the strength to ask for help have to be met by providers who can speak their language — by taking our military experience into the mental illness field, veterans can provide this important service for our brothers and sisters in need."
It's time that we as a country came together to let our veterans know that they are not fighting these mental battles alone when they return home. Our support doesn't end when they trade their uniforms for civilian clothing.
For access to other resources related to this topic, visit the mental health section of our blog.
- 7 Quick Tips for Taking Care of Your Mental Health
- Is Mental Illness the New Cancer?
- Honoring Home Health Aides & Others During Home Care & Hospice Month
- Parents of Developmentally Disabled Children Benefit From Peer Mentors
- Why Mental Health First Aid Should be a Priority