When a member of the military services is on active duty, they need to be at peak performance both in terms of physical health and mental health. Mental health refers to one’s social, psychological, and emotional well being while physical health has to do with conditioning, exercise, and diet. In order to operate effectively in dangerous and stressful situations on active duty, peak fitness in both the mental and physical realms is ideal. Unfortunately, military service routinely takes its toll on those who serve. Mental health often slides into mental illness as service members cope with the demands of each task at hand. Sorting out mental health vs mental illness in veterans is the beginning of preventing veteran suicide.
Post-service Mental Health vs Mental Illness
Throughout life the mental health of a person in terms of their psychological, emotional, and social well-being affect how that person handles problems, interacts with others, and makes life decisions. When life is stressful it is common to experience anxiety and even mild depression. When the stresses of life are persistent and severe a person’s temporary anxiety can become permanent and a “down” mood can convert into long term depression. Individuals with tendencies toward mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia will commonly experience a worsening of these conditions.
When the Stress of Military Services Does Not Go Away
Ideally when military service is over a person returns to civilian life and a grateful nation. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. One issue is that the “war on terror” with repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan far exceeds the duration of the First or Second World Wars or even US involvement in Vietnam. With abolition of the draft the burden of military service is not shared equally in society. It becomes too easy for those who do not serve to ignore or forget the burden carried by members of the military service and their families. Isolation is a factor in converting mental health issues to mental illness issues and it is a factor in providing care to veterans in need.
Mental Health and Illness Issues Unique to Veterans
While depression is found in the civilian population as well as veterans, nearly a quarter of active duty personnel experience signs of depression and nearly a tenth exhibit signs of PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Traumatic brain injury is a physical injury but its aftereffects include depression and other mental issues. The “flashbacks” that are so common in PTSD are part of the condition and part of what keeps it going as veterans “revisit” traumatic events in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other theaters of war when they are living back home in the relative safety of Des Moines, Iowa, Houston, Texas, Miami, Florida.
Difficulty Admitting There Is a Problem
In the military a person is trained to be competent, reliable, and self-reliant. In the middle of a firefight in Falluja or during a bombing mission of a terrorist hideout in the Hindu Kush there is not time for “sharing” one’s fears or mental health concerns. Even in down times between missions it is generally frowned upon to talk about how the stress of combat situations is getting to you. The military is tough, resourceful, and capable of everything and anything. Unfortunately, while this attitude is generally necessary in carrying out mission after mission, it takes a toll on mental health and converts mental health issues into mental illness problems. And the self-reliance of military services follows us into civilian life and all-too-often makes it very difficult to seek out or ask for help. The end result in far too many cases is that the military veterans, an American hero, takes his or her own life rather than continue experiencing the trauma of their military years or admitting a “perceived weakness.”
Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Suicide in Veterans
At No Fallen Heroes we devote ourselves to reducing and eventually eliminating veteran mental health and illness issues and suicide. The help that is necessary for suffering veterans can be as simple as saying “thank you for your service to our nation.” It may mean giving a Veteran preference when hiring. Many times a veteran simply needs to talk. So, taking the time for a cup of coffee and a chat can make all of the difference in the world. More difficult situations need more and more of the same as well as professional therapy. One treatment that we are helping with at No Fallen Heroes is the use of psychedelic medicines in the treatment of PTSD and prevention of veteran suicide. Follow us on these pages and be sure to help in any way that you can.