Veterans can be exposed more to sadness, anger, frustration, and low self-esteem. In some cases, these feelings are brief and have little or no impact on daily functioning. However, when it does impact a veteran’s ability to function and negatively impacts their mental health, professional help from a mental health practitioner can be an effective treatment option.
This article will discuss common mental health issues that veterans experience and how they can find help.
Common Mental Health Issues Experienced by Veterans
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 3 in 1980 due to sociopolitical aftereffects of the Vietnam War. It has mostly remained unchanged until the most recent update in 2013; however, its classification is still debated.
PTSD is a complex and changing disorder involving biological, psychological, and social entities. As a result, it isn’t easy to study and diagnose. Many people exposed to trauma experience symptoms like numbness or heightened emotions, nightmares, anxiety, and hypervigilance. However, some individuals will overcome these symptoms within a month. For roughly 10 to 20% of people, however, symptoms become persistent and debilitating,
In addition, PTSD features intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares relating to the past trauma, and people can avoid reminders of the event and experience hypervigilance, and sleep challenges.
Military personnel, in particular, can be exposed to various potentially traumatizing experiences. For example, wartime deployments can feature witnessing injuries or violent death. In addition, active duty military members experience non-military-related traumas like interpersonal violence, physical or sexual abuse.
After many years of war in Afghanistan, many veterans with combat and deployment experience require mental health care. As mentioned, veterans can have PTSD, acute stress disorder, and depression. Depression, in fact, is one of the leading mental health disorders that occurs in the military. According to studies, up to 9% of ambulatory military health network appointments are due to depression. The military environment can also cause the development and progression of depression. For example, many military personnel are separated from their family or loved ones, have stresses from combat, and more.
Military medical facilities also saw an increase from 11.4% of members diagnosed with depression to 15% after deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan. Since depression is so common, mental health practitioners must identify this disorder among active duty and veteran patients.
Veteran suicide rates are the highest they’ve ever been, with annual deaths by suicide rates at over 6,000 veterans per year. A study including 27 states approximated 17.8% of these recorded suicides were by veterans. According to The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veteran suicide rates were 1.5 times higher than non-veterans. Research has indicated that veterans are at a much higher risk of suicide during their first year of being a veteran and leaving the military. Within the U.S. Armed Forces, suicide rates have doubled between 2000 and 2012, with about 19.74 deaths per 100,000 service members.
Substance Use Disorders
Substance Use disorders (SUDs), like alcohol use, are a significant issue among veterans and military members. Alcohol use is common and used in social settings and to reduce stress. Unfortunately, SUDs feature substantial adverse medical, psychiatric, interpersonal, and occupational outcomes.
One study that analyzed military personnel discovered that about 30% of completed suicides and around 20% of deaths from high-risk behavior were due to alcohol or drug use. Addiction can also include:
- Substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
- Prescription medications like opioids, sedatives, and stimulants.
- Illicit drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
More than 450,000 U.S. service members had a Traumatic brain injury (TBI) from 2000 to 2021. Studies found that service members and Veterans with a TBI may experience:
- Ongoing symptoms
- Co-occurring health conditions, like PTSD and depression
The Report to Congress about traumatic brain injury in the United States: Understanding the public health problem among current and former military personnel, created by CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Veterans Administration, involves an overview of TBI among service members and Veterans. It also features various considerations that discuss this public health issue.
You can also find details about TBI among service members and Veterans on the Veterans Administration website. In addition, you can visit the Military Health System’s Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence website for more information, resources, and support for military personnel, Veterans, and their loved ones.
How to Find Help
Service people can find it helpful to have good mental and physical health. However, if you think you could be suffering from a mental health condition, or if you go into the armed forces with a past or present mental health issue, it’s essential to note that the armed forces do not require service members to disclose any mental health problems to their chain of command. Deciding whether to disclose your condition falls on the medical officers and care providers you work with. In other words, they receive training on military policies involving the confidentiality of protected health information (PHI).
The following resources can be beneficial in your mental health journey:
- Confidential counselors: Counselors are available for service members and their families via Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647. This resource can be an excellent first step in discovering more about help and treatment.
- Primary care providers: Primary care providers can discuss concerns and treatment options with you.
- Behavioral health care providers: On military bases, primary care clinics are available to seek a specialist’s advice without leaving the base. In addition, some bases offer Embedded Behavioral Health teams, which are separate from traditional medical facilities.
If you are in crisis or know someone who is, you can find help immediately. You can call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org to contact 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran looking for mental health help, check our database at LGBTQ and All. We have the contact information for many mental health specialists that work with military personnel or veterans who would benefit from mental health treatment.
If you are a specialist who works with veterans and their mental health, be sure to sign up for our database so you can connect with clients right away.