Mental Health and Military Appreciation

written by Ian Lisman
May 9, 2013

In our media-driven, socially-conscious era, every month has its many associations, and May is no exception. Did you know that May is National Salad Month? Neither did I. It’s also National Mental Health Awareness month and Military Appreciation Month. It’s fitting that these two issues share a month because, due to over ten years of continuous conflict, they are inextricably linked.

With a small, all-volunteer military pressed into duty for over a decade, many service members have faced multiple deployments and experienced  sexual trauma, horrifying urban combat, traumatic head wounds, and they have suffered from lack of employment opportunities when they return home. All of these factors can contribute to mental health issues.

As many as 40 percent of all veterans will experience some form of mental health or trauma related symptoms as a result of their service.  These are complex and often long lasting conditions that veterans will live with for many years. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have both struggled to come to grips with this growing problem.

As a society, our history of treating mental health issues, particularly among veterans, is shaky at best. For far too long people who live with mental health conditions have had to put up with social stigma, misdiagnoses, and general disinformation. When it comes to serving veterans, mental health awareness can provide some helpful insights when paired with an appreciation and understanding of military life.

Whether you are a service provider, administrator, concerned citizen, friend, or family member of a veteran who struggles with these conditions, there are some things to know: service members make up only 1 percent of our society. They are screened and selected based on a wide variety of high physical, legal, and intellectual standards. Many who attempt to join the military can’t meet these standards.

Members of the military are used to the people around them being “squared away,” that is to say, they expect their peers to be of strong mind and body. Service members rely on one another for accountability and security, when they fall short they feel they have let down their unit and themselves. There is a sense of failure, both personal and institutional.

DoD has made great strides in recent years to reduce this stigma. VA has attempted to educate providers on some of the basics of military culture and PTSD in free trainings.  As concerned members of society, it is our job to welcome our service members back to the civilian world with understanding and a deep sense of respect for the sacrifices the have made on behalf of all of us.

Photo courtesy of Metsuki Doll's photostream.

If you are a veteran struggling with mental health issues, or have a loved one who is, there is help. Please check out these VA resources. You can also find an anonymous online mental health screening here and resources for veteran families here.