Too many veterans today have unaddressed mental health issues; according to studies, almost a third of all service-persons who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have from a mental health condition. Left untreated, these illnesses could lead to violence, addiction, and suicide; statistics show that veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their civilian peers. With these numbers, it’s clear that not enough is being done to help our veterans. So, where are we falling short?
Closing The Access Gap
Some mental health issues develop, or are aggravated, due to a lack of access to healthcare. Veterans have reported difficulties making appointments, as well as finding transportation to the doctor. And when physical ailments aren’t treated immediately, these could lead to mental health issues.
Tinnitus, for instance, is the most common disability among veterans, even surpassing PTSD. Characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears, tinnitus can lead to issues like anxiety and depression if left untreated. One 2015 study found that 70 percent of veterans with tinnitus had anxiety, while 59.3 percent had depression, and 58.2 percent had both. Chronic pain also affects more than half of veterans and has been linked to depression and PTSD.
Thankfully, the VA has also implemented new rules in June 2019 to make healthcare more accessible. Previously, veterans who had to travel 40 miles or more to get to a VA health care facility were allowed to use a private health care provider. But now, veterans who live 30 minutes away from a VA clinic will be able to choose private care. By listening to veterans and focusing on improving overall health, the VA can help combat mental health issues faster.
The Battle Against Shame And Stigma
Studies reveal that only half of returning vets who need mental health treatment get these services. Today, more than half of those who need mental health care don’t even know that they need it. We need more whole health advocates to bridge this gap.
Some veterans also believe that therapy may not work, or that talking about the trauma will make them feel even worse. Many more veterans may choose not to get help because of social factors, such as embarrassment and the fear of being seen as weak. Even though getting professional treatment is nothing to be ashamed about, there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health issues.
The Department of Defense has recognized this and is taking steps to eliminate stigma, such as no longer requiring servicemen to report having sought out mental health treatment for combat-related issues. More high-ranking personnel are also coming forward to share their experiences with PTSD, and what kind of treatment helped. When more veterans and active servicemen become transparent about their illnesses, this doesn’t just help destigmatize mental health issues, but also raises awareness. Though changing people’s perceptions about mental health care is an uphill battle, raising awareness is a powerful way to help veterans get on the road to recovery.
How To Support Veterans’ Mental Health
The support of the community is crucial to helping veterans recover. Veterans’ families, especially, should educate themselves on mental health issues that frequently affect veterans. Many experts agree that encouragement from their families can also help veterans overcome some common barriers to treatment, such as fear and shame.
Most people in the armed forces understand how important it is to take care of their bodies, but sometimes neglect the mental aspect of their health. If you are a veteran experiencing mental health problems, or if you think that a veteran family member may benefit from mental health treatment, seek help. Call Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). This is a 24/7 toll-free, confidential hotline manned by mental health professionals. You may also text VA at #838255, or chat online with a counselor at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net.
Author Credit: Allie Oliver