The challenges, dangers, and stress of military service take their toll on active duty personnel and often continue to take their toll when one leaves active military service. While the military insists on its members keeping physically fit it can be difficult to maintain healthy mental fitness. This is especially true of those at the tip of the spear, those who engaged in repeated active combat situations, saw their comrades die or be injured, and found it difficult to reconcile the wars in which they fought with the needs of the country that they served. At No Fallen Heroes we are concerned about mental health issues for veterans as a part of our quest to reduce and eliminate veteran suicides.
Incidence of Mental Health Concerns During Active Duty
Current research shows us that roughly a fourth of all active duty personnel exhibit signs of at least one mental health issue. These same issues tend to bleed over into civilian life making that transition difficult. There are three common mental health issues that are especially prominent. These are Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury. About 9% of those on active duty shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. About 23% of active duty service members exhibit at least some signs of depression. Between 2000 and 2019 more than 400,000 US military members sustained at least one traumatic brain injury of which ten percent were moderate and 2.3% were severe or penetrating.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Commonly referred to as PTSD this is a common mental health issue in the veteran community both active duty and retired. Military combat as well as other life events like sexual assault or other physical assault can lead to a person repeatedly reexperiencing the trauma in “flashbacks.” Besides reliving stressful events a person with PTSD typically lives with negative feelings and beliefs that are not consistent with the time and place in which they live in post-military life. Relationships become difficult and those with PTSD commonly feel unsafe in otherwise normal situations and surroundings. Hyperarousal in which a person exhibits a fight or flight response to normal life situations is common and often leads to difficulty sleeping, easy startling, and a constant feeling of jitteriness. Post-service individuals with PTSD have a significantly higher risk of committing suicide than the general adult population.
Clinical depression is not just having a bad day caused by normal life events. Depression is a low mood that lasts for days, weeks, months, and longer. It disrupts normal sleep, reduces the drive to be with others and sexual drive. It results in a reduced appetite as well. Individuals with PTSD are about four times as likely to exhibit clinical depression than other adults. Depressed individuals lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble focusing their thoughts, routinely feel hopeless, and have an increased incidence of thoughts about hurting themselves or committing suicide. The incidence of significant depression among veterans is about 11% while it is about 8% in the general adult population.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury is the result of a blow to the head whether it is blunt force or penetrating trauma. Of service personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan one in five individuals experienced some degree of traumatic brain injury. While injuries that leave a scar on the outside are apparent to the world most of these are “invisible wounds.” The situation is somewhat similar to what has been found in boxers and professional football players who repeatedly “get their bell rung.” The coup contrecoup injury is where the brain is thrown to one side of the skull and bounces back causing numerous micro-injuries. The more severe the blow, the more frequent the trauma the worse the symptoms of traumatic brain injury will be. These injuries change memories, make it hard to concentrate, reduce impulse control, and make it difficult to plan things in life and exercise normal good judgment. Veterans with this condition often are depressed, do not sleep well, are irritable, anger easily, are anxious and have an additional diagnosis of PTSD. Poor coordination and balance, limb weakness, seizures, headaches, nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, and sensitivity to touch are common findings.
The sum total of injuries both physical and emotional incurred during years of military service can take a huge toll on the mental health of a veteran. The sense of purpose, common values and goals, and comradeship that define active duty deployments is all too often replaced in the veteran with a hollow vacuum in which they are left alone with their injuries and a sense of despair and hopelessness. At No Fallen Heroes we dedicate ourselves to helping veterans with their mental health as was as physical issues and especially with helping prevent veteran suicide.