Military personnel should possess qualities like loyalty, integrity, honor, self-control, courage, and, most importantly, bravery. It’s not an easy job to be on the front line of combat zones and face situations where there are immediate threats to life.
But people aren’t always what they appear to be, and as much as men and women in uniform try their best to stay strong, there can be a breaking point that can affect their mental health, including that of their families. Being deployed in combat zones is an overwhelming situation for military personnel and their family.
There’s separation anxiety and the uncertainty of safety when on active duty, among many other mental health issues experienced by the military. This post will discuss the mental health problems in the active-duty military, veterans, and their families.
According to the stats provided by the National Council for Behavior Health, 30% of military troops (both on active duty and reserve crew) deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq have mental health conditions that need to be addressed. These rates are pretty alarming. Seven hundred thirty thousand men and women military personnel and veterans experience mental health conditions like major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The more alarming news is that 22 veterans in the US commit suicide every day due to the lack of mental and emotional health care. Something has to be done because vets risked their lives and gave up a lot of comforts to keep us safe.
Suicide among veterans can be prevented if seeking help for mental wellness in the military is not stigmatized. There are three major mental health disorders that are commonly diagnosed in the US military on active duty and veterans that could lead them to commit suicide.
Traumatic events in military combat like assault, accidents, attacks, and witnessing death are the most common causes of PTSD. Such events experienced by a person diagnosed with PTSD can have long-lasting negative effects like nightmares, frequent flashbacks of the events, trouble sleeping, and severe anxiety. Both veterans and active-duty members can experience PTSD.
Depression is a common mental health concern among military personnel. Being away from their family for long times, the death of a brother or sister in arms, and a serious physical injury while in service are the common causes of depression in the military. The lack of diagnoses and treatment for depression may affect their usual day-to-day activities.
Due to combat and strenuous training exercises in the military, service members are at high risk for brain injuries like concussions or a blow to the head. When not treated properly, traumatic brain injury can lead to memory problems and mood swings. Studies show that head injuries may lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety in veterans and active-duty members.
Statistics show that US armed troops and veterans also experience mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance use disorders. Adjustment disorder is also common in military members transitioning to civilian life and living a normal life in the community. Adjustment disorder is also characterized by an unhealthy response to life changes.
If you’re active military personnel, a veteran, or have a family member working for the military, learn how to distinguish the warning signs of mental illness. This knowledge also comes in handy if you notice another service member who is experiencing mental and emotional distress.
The signs and symptoms of a mental illness may vary from each person. Physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental health changes may be witnessed. Recognize the presence of a mental illness by looking out for these signs and symptoms:
- Feeling down and sad for long periods
- Confusion and inability to concentrate on doing daily tasks
- Unpredictable mood changes (switching from a happy mood to a sad mood real quick)
- Excessively worried, guilty, and scared
- Once a friendly person who suddenly prefers to be alone
- Not enjoying activities enjoyed before
- Inability to sleep properly
- Appearing to be tired all the time and lacks energy
- Changes in eating patterns
- Disconnected from reality (hallucinations, paranoia, delusions)
- Hostility, violence, and anger
- Difficulties in coping with challenges at work
- Physical symptoms like back pain, stomach pain, headache, and other unexplained physical symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
Military service members are expected to be in great physical shape, but a mental health condition is equally detrimental to fulfilling their duties. In recent years, the military has changed its policies when it comes to mental health services. It’s about time to take action and give mental support to the men and women who risk their lives protecting our country.
The Department of Defense has recognized that untreated mental illness poses a threat to the safety of the community and civilians. The Defense Department said that seeking help for your mental condition does not impose a risk on your career. In short, talking to a therapist or a counselor because of issues in your line of work or problems at home will not affect your career. Let’s be clear on this because this is one of the stigmas that are attached to mental conditions in the military.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) under the Privacy Act of 1974 states that armed personnel have protected health information. The Department of Defense supports voluntary seeking of military personnel’s mental health services, and any information shall be kept private and confidential between the patient and their mental health care provider.
Unless when there is a serious risk of harming oneself or others, then this is disclosed to the commanding officer. This does not mean immediate dismissal; other options are explored to address the issue (i.e., treating the personnel or changing their duties).
What Happens If You Do Not Seek Treatment?
Mental health problems do not go away on their own. The longer the mental illness persists or is left untreated, the more difficult it is for an individual to recover. Any person with untreated mental illness may experience worse symptoms. This will affect how they function in their everyday life as a result.
Military personnel who do not seek immediate help for their mental conditions may have repercussions on their career. Seeking therapy does not affect your job. But when a doctor discovers the presence of a mental illness, the commanding officer may take action in changing duty limitations (from deployment in the field to office work).
If the symptoms are severe and affect their ability to fulfill their job responsibilities, separation from the service may be recommended. That is why it is recommended that military troops take care of their mental wellness and seek help immediately.
Data show that 97% of military personnel who sought mental health treatment said that the treatment helped them and did not affect their career in any way. It is those who ignore seeking treatment for their mental health who experience more damaging impacts in their career.
It is very important for men and women in the military (army, navy, air force, whether retired or in active duty or not), police, and fire department, as well as emergency responders or anyone who risk their lives in ensuring the safety and security of the whole nation, to take care of your mental health.
For families struggling to cope with the emotional and mental stress of a family member in service, know that you can seek help. Here are some tips you can follow to take care of your mind and body.
Relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are beneficial approaches to avoiding anxiety and depression and improving sleeping patterns. You will feel calmer when you practice relaxation techniques for at least 15 minutes daily. It can help reduce and reverse the symptoms of PTSD.
Exercising regularly is not only good for physical health but helps achieve mental wellness as well. That’s why active personnel on duty love to exercise because it’s a great pastime. In addition, exercise can improve their sleep, relieve stress, increase their energy, and improve their mood.
What you eat affects the way you feel and think. Notice how dairy-free dark chocolate with low sugar can make you happy and how junk food makes you feel bloated and crappy. Take care of your mental well-being by eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet full of whole foods. Eating nutritious food regularly and eating sweet treats in moderation are positive steps toward optimum mental health.
It is important to stay connected with your friends in the service and your family as well. Scheduling video calls with family members at home is a great source of strength. For men and women in active duty, take time to enjoy group activities and bond with others.
Talking about what you feel and having an emotional outlet with your brother and sisters on the field is great therapy. Sometimes, all you need is someone to listen. Talking about your mental health with the people you trust is sometimes all the therapy you need.
Family members or veterans can join support groups, socialize in person, and talk to other people. Staying connected with your friends and loved ones is crucial in taking care of your mental health.
The last and most important tip in caring for one’s mental well-being is to seek professional help. There are mental health specialists deployed in the field who are trained to help with service members’ emotional and mental well-being.
For veterans transitioning to civilian life, seeking support from a mental health professional can help you cope with life changes and increase your resilience. Family members, spouses, kids, and parents can also seek support for their mental and emotional well-bess.
Know your treatment options by seeking professional help from Kentucky Counseling Center. You can schedule an appointment online and enjoy telehealth care services from the comfort of your home. Seeking professional help will enable you to enjoy a happier, more productive, and stress-free life.