At No Fallen Heroes our primary focus is on reducing and then eliminating veteran suicide. Part and parcel of this effort is a focus on good mental health. This means attention to one’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. When someone leaves military service, it should be to come home to a joyful homecoming like in an old Norman Rockwell painting. Unfortunately, too many recently discharged vets find themselves isolated, unable to find work, and distanced from family and other means of support. These sorts of situations compound any other issues like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or major depression. What are some practical things that a person can do to achieve better mental health?
Military Discharge and Mental Health Issues
When a person is in the military their life is directed by the needs of the service and follows orders passed down the chain of command. A soldier, sailor, or marine does not need to wake up in the morning and wonder what they are going to do. Their day is mapped out for them. When they leave military service the first obvious thing is that the veteran needs to set their own goals, their own schedule, and manage their own time. Three steps to better mental health include connecting to and staying connected to people, being physically active, and staying in the moment. All of these require a shift from following orders to creating one’s own life and routine.
Connecting to and Staying Connected to People
One of the youngest naval aviators during World War II was George Herbert Walker Bush who went on to become a US Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, first Ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, Vice President, and President of the United States. Through all of this Bush kept in touch with old friends for all of his life, including when he was I the White House. When a veteran leaves the service, he or she may think it difficult to stay in touch with their comrades but in the internet age this is easy using social media or sending emails.
The next step is to make new friends and find new associates in civilian life. Some folks find it easy to start up conversations and others do not. For those in the “not” category this starts by getting out of your house or apartment. Go to your place of worship, find a volunteer agency and help out. Join a gym or become part of a sports team. And take part in any social activities that are associated with work or school. Staying connected in civilian life is an excellent way to help keep away nagging memories or service related trauma. And, if you have gotten out of touch with your family, make it a point to attend family gatherings or just drop in to talk.
Stay Physically Active
Members of the military services are required to maintain minimum standards of physical fitness and many postings are physically demanding. A result of going from this world to one of less or no physical activity is mild depression or worse. Work out, join a gym, go for walks, run if you wish, join a sports team, and stay in shape. Increased blood flow is known to help keep away moodiness and depression as seen in the “runner’s high.” This is important if you tend to isolate yourself or if your post service life includes school and lots of time sitting in class, at the computer, or studying in the library. Many times the key to exercise is turning off the TV, putting away the smartphone, and leaving the house. You will be more likely to continue exercise routines that you enjoy so look for ways to work out that you enjoy as well as ones that keep you physically in shape.
Learn Something New and Improve Yourself
Military service teaches useful life skills and occasionally teaches technical skills that can be carried directly into civilian life. However, marching in formation, lying in ambush, shooting a rifle, or throwing a hand grenade are typically not useful skills in a business setting, factory job, or for writing computer code. The practical reason that many vets go to school when they leave the service is to obtain marketable skills. The hidden reason is that learning something useful makes a person feel good about themselves. It raises self-esteem and self-confidence and commonly helps a person connect with others on the same or similar career path. And learning new things does not need to stop when the person leaves school. Learn to cook, take up a hobby, join a book club. Do something that grows your mind and broadens your horizons and your mental health will benefit.