The American Legion in its “Be the One” initiative to combat veteran suicide is making the point that it is OK not to be OK. Seeking help is not weakness but rather an effective way to reduce the likelihood of suicide among veterans. The issue regarding seeking help is mental illness. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental health problems are all too often seen by society at large as something that a person simply has to live with or work their way through on their own.
Broken Bones Versus Broken Minds
When a person breaks a bone in an accident, sporting event, or from a slip and fall they seek help. Anyone who says that a person should just “tough it out” instead of going to the doctor when they break an ankle or wrist or sustain a skull fracture is generally seen as sort of crazy. However, half of Americans see it as sign of weakness to seek help for mental illness issues. Unfortunately, the percentage of veterans who interpret seeking help for mental illness issues as weakness is 75% instead of the 50% in society at large. The sad part of this is that not getting help for a broken ankle means you will have a painful limp the rest of your life. Not getting help for PTSD or depression may end up in your death by suicide!
Getting Help for Veterans in Need
In their “be the one” initiative to fight the high veteran suicide rate the American Legion is spreading the word that ground zero of this issue is changing perceptions when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues. The rate of suicide among veterans is far higher than in the population at large. Part of this is the degree of trauma to which veterans are subjected and part of the issue is the belief by veterans that they are being weak if they admit to a mental health problem and seek help for it.
Many who commit suicide are leaders, giants among their peers. These were members of the military that others looked up to and came to for advice and followed as leaders and examples. While these individuals help others they often do not help themselves or seek out help for their own problems.
Mental Health Should Not Be a Taboo Subject
In discussions about veteran suicide at a recent Legion symposium a recurrent theme was that your comrade’s life is worth it. The stakes being that high, mental health should not be a taboo subject in or out of the military. Self help groups like AA and related organizations using the same approach encourage members to talk about their problems, to share their concerns and fears. What these individuals commonly find out is that they are not the only ones to have the troubles and fears that plague their lives.
When You Cannot Even Think About Your Mental Health Problems
A major issue with conditions like PTSD is that a person may want to think about the trauma they went through in the past. Unfortunately, the nature of their condition is that simply bringing a traumatic episode to mind raises so much anxiety, fear, and depression that they are unable to do that. A person would be agreeable to coaching or psychotherapy but is unable to even think about painful issues. Here is where psychedelic medicines come into the picture. These medicines have been shown to be extremely effective in research settings in helping individuals with depression, PTSD, and substance abuse issues to recall and deal with painful memories and the resulting flashbacks.
Because this sort of effective treatment will soon be available for those who suffer from mental illnesses and are at risk of suicide, it is especially important that we are able to break down the barriers caused by thinking that seeking help for mental illness is a sign of weakness. It is essential that the word be spread that the life of your comrade in arms and your own are valuable and worth the risk of people thinking you might be weak when what you are doing is taking the problem in hand and getting the help that you need.