At No Fallen Heroes our main focus is the prevention of veteran suicide and the mental health and other factors that commonly lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide. However, there are a whole host of veteran mental health issues that can make life difficult for former members of the armed services. Depression and PTSD have gotten the most attention both in research and in the public awareness. Roughly 15% of those who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer today from depression or PTSD. But conditions that can be equally harmful which afflict veterans include substance abuse, interpersonal violence, traumatic brain injury, and suicide. Interpersonal violence is hugely damaging to veteran families and relationships and all too often leads to social isolation of the veteran at exactly the times when he or she needs connections to help deal with depression and PTSD:
Stressful Times for Veterans
Combat, deaths in combat, and recurring thoughts of the psychological trauma of combat are common reasons for veteran mental health issues for years after these events. However, close combat is not a necessity for veterans to leave the service with mental health issues and separation from the service itself can be highly stressful to those who had successfully adapted to military life. And all of the factors that affect veterans have a cascading effect of troubles for their families. Those engaged in treating veterans for their problems always do better when they understand how military service relates to the mental health of the veteran and every member of their family.
Although this condition has occurred in every war since the beginning of time it was only codified as a specific disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 3 in 1980 as treatment professionals struggled to deal with the deluge of cases from the war in Vietnam. Soldier’s heart was the term used in the Civil War era and shell shock during World War One. By World War Two it was called combat fatigue.
Short term psychological numbness or excessive emotions, anxiety, hypervigilance, and nightmares are common for about a month after highly traumatic events. But somewhere between ten and twenty percent of those suffering severe emotional trauma continue to have problems. The more severe the trauma and the more commonly it recurs the more likely it is that any person and especially a combat veteran will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This mental health condition is characterized by nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks to traumatic events. When a veteran suffers from PTSD their integration into civilian life, their relationships to friends and family, and their work often suffers. For many veterans it would seem that they have never left the battlefield and are still at constant risk for their lives and mental wellbeing.
While PTSD gets the most attention in the press, depression is common in veterans and constitutes the reason for seeking help in 9% of the veteran population. Some of the reasons for depression are unfortunately built into the military life with frequent long separation from family, deployment to dangerous postings while public opinion back home not only turns against the current war but service members who are doing their duty only coming home to be spit on. Combat and the loss of comrades in combat commonly leads to depression and some deployments like to Iraq and Afghanistan tended to raise depression rates from an 11% baseline to 15%. Major depression manifests itself with insomnia, weight loss or gain, depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, decreased ability to concentrate, thoughts of worthlessness, fatigue, and thoughts of suicide. Like with PTSD veterans who are depressed have trouble integrating into civilian society and the consequent social isolation makes the condition worse.
Veteran Substance Abuse
Excessive use of alcohol and other addictive substances has long been a problem in a subset of the veteran community. Alcohol is used to socialize and relieve stress. An unfortunate combination of factors in veteran suicides is separation after a long marriage, progressive social isolation, and drinking to relieve pain and stress. Studies have shown that twenty percent of deaths from high risk behavior in veterans are associated with alcohol or drugs and thirty percent of suicides in veterans are associated with alcohol or drugs. Although addiction is the worst stage of substance abuse disorders legal problems, problems holding jobs, and marital breakups are all seen in lesser stages of substance abuse disorder. At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to helping veterans find their way integrating into civilian society and dealing with the many factors that lead all too often to veteran suicide.