At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the prevention of veteran suicide. As part of this endeavor we concern ourselves with both new technologies like psychedelic medicines for treating suicide risk factors like depression and PTSD and basic social skills to help prevent social isolation. When on active duty in the military services a person is part of a group, a team. They have assigned tasks and a defined place in the order of things. All too often when someone transitions to civilian life they have trouble finding the same place in the order of things and become increasingly isolated.
Risks of Social Isolation
Being isolated socially does not just lead to loneliness. It is a factor as negative as smoking, obesity, or substance abuse for one’s general health. Social isolation is all too often linked to premature death. Socially isolated individuals have increased likelihood of depression, poor sleep, reduced ability to handle the affairs and problems of life, and measurable decrease in cognitive abilities as well as impaired immune cardiovascular function. Individuals who are socially isolated have a higher risk of stroke as well as coronary artery (heart) disease. Depression and anxiety are worse in isolated individuals who, in their isolation, may fall prey to old memories and traumas such as found in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Escape from Social Isolation
The answer to social isolation is to be around and engage with other people. The veteran used to have this engagement with others while in military service. They had assigned tasks and functioned in defined roles. This can disappear when leaving the service. But, to replace this constellation of social support the veteran may need to develop or re-develop social skills different from those applied to their niche in the military chain of command. A good way to start is to assess your social skills (or lack of them) by asking a few questions.
- Do you have trouble getting to know others?
- Is standing up for yourself difficult?
- Do you have difficulty letting others know what you are concerned about?
- Is it difficult for you to provide emotional support to others?
Those of us who answer “yes” to these questions typically feel lonely or stressed when confronted with such issues and when this is the story of your life it generally leads to chronic depression along with all of the risk factors that are associated with depression. The answer to this dilemma is more “face to face” time and that can be an issue in modern society.
Social Isolation and the Smartphone Age
It is hard to go anywhere these days without seeing people with their smartphone clicking and scrolling and ignoring those around them. The nature of social media is that it is designed to reward compulsive and obsessive behavior like spending all day on a given social media site. There is good evidence that this change in how society works reduces social skills, academic performance, and work skills. Social awareness goes by the wayside. If your answer to loneliness and depression is your smartphone you need to put it away and go where there are people talking, visiting, working in common such as a volunteer agency, or somewhere where there is the opportunity to talk to real live people and develop social skills.
Volunteerism As a Replica of Military Life
A factor that is often missing in a veteran’s life is teamwork. A place to find this and its associated camaraderie is in volunteer agencies. These outfits always need more workers and will commonly make every effort to make a new volunteer feel at home. At one level this sort of situation will recreate what a veteran had in military service, a team working toward shared goals and a structure in which to work and belong. This is a practical sort of situation in which to refresh and practice health social skills.