Mental Health for Vets
We all know that the people who put on the uniforms of the various branches of the United States military face many dangers. It is easy to think of those dangers as primarily physical. After all, in combat situations, service members face weapons that are designed to do them physical harm—to kill or to maim them so that they can no longer fight. We see the aftermath of that kind of injury anytime veterans gather together. From lost limbs to the need to use a wheelchair to permanent damage to the ears and eyes (and much more besides), the physical consequences of military service are often easy to spot.
That is less true of the ways in which the mental health of veterans has been impacted by their service. But it is undeniable that those who serve our country often return home with mental health issues that can make their return to civilian life extremely difficult.
Let’s turn our attention to three mental health challenges that veterans often face following their service to the country.
Traumatic Brain Injury
In one sense, a traumatic brain injury is a physical injury like those we have mentioned above. Due to a blow to the head or a concussive force, the brain itself sustains damage. But unlike most physical injuries, a traumatic brain injury cannot be seen, and the aftermath of the injury may not be immediately apparent. Nevertheless, the effects of this sort of injury—including impacts on mental well-being—can be quite serious. They may include:
- Increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Irritability, anger, and/or a reduction in impulse control
- Difficulty concentrating, making plans, and/or making decisions
- Impacts on the person’s memory
- Weakness in the limbs, lack of coordination or balance, and/or a sensitivity to touch or light
- Nausea and/or vomiting
You can see from this list that a traumatic brain injury can cause both physical and mental problems for the person who has been hurt. Those problems may include the next two mental health challenges faced by vets that we want to explore: depression and PTSD.
While it is common to hear people use the single word “depression” to describe any of a number of more specific mental health disorders, the term is useful in the context of talking about the mental well-being of veterans. The markers of depression may include:
- A persistent feeling of sadness or melancholy lasting for two weeks or more
- Changes in habits related to sleeping and eating
- A loss of interest in activities once found enjoyable
- Trouble focusing
- Feelings of hopelessness that may include thoughts of self-harm or suicide
It is important to note that depression is distinct from the kind of run-of-the-mill sadness we all experience from time to time. A veteran experiencing any combination of the symptoms above should be evaluated for depression.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
When an individual experiences a traumatic event—like those often experienced by those in the military—it can impact the function of the brain in a variety of troubling ways. Those who suffer from PTSD may experience symptoms including:
- Alarming reliving of the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks that can seem quite real
- A growing distrust of others—even those of whom they were previously fond
- An amped up “fight or flight” response that overreacts to all sorts of stimuli and interferes with sleep, concentration, and more
- A tendency to avoid people and situations that may bring up bad memories of the event
A veteran struggling with PTSD may find it difficult to find or keep a job, build or maintain relationships, or function effectively in civilian life. The distrust that comes with the disorder can also make it difficult for vets to seek out the help they need to manage PTSD and other mental health disorders.
Mental Health Disorders Can Lead to a Substance Use Disorder
It is a sad truth that many veterans turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to manage the symptoms of mental health disorders like those we have explored here. The combination of a substance use disorder and mental health disorders can seem wholly overwhelming. But effective help is available.
Peak View and Tactical Recovery Can Help
If you are a military veteran dealing with mental health issues (or if you know a veteran who is struggling), we want to help. Peak View Behavioral Health offers a program called Tactical Recovery, which has been created with the specific needs of veterans in mind. Tactical Recovery addresses both substance use and mental health disorders, helping vets regain their sobriety and their mental well-being. The staff of Peak View Behavioral Health is honored to serve those who have served our country.