A report by the United States Department of Defense in 2017 noted over a million and a half war veterans in the State of California. Many former soldiers in these numbers report struggling with various mental health issues right after returning from deployment. These mental illnesses are mainly attributed to psychological trauma due to violence and life-threatening circumstances during war.
As the cases rise, the general public has become increasingly aware of how mental health problems impact the lives of veterans and those around them. However, many of them struggle to get the treatment and support they need for a fast and complete recovery. Without the proper care and treatment they deserve, veterans with mental health conditions often lead an unhealthy and destructive lifestyle.
In extreme cases, some may even resort to self-harm and suicide. There were over 526 war veterans who died by suicide in California based on updated data gathered by the U.S. Veteran Affairs in 2018. Apart from this, suicide rates among war veterans have continued to rise for the past decade. As the problem grows at an alarming rate, more people have started looking for solutions to help patients with mental disorders restore their health and reclaim their lives.
For more information about mental health issues the California veterans face and other relevant details, here are some points you may find helpful:
- Common Mental Health Issues Among Military Veterans
Serving in the military, especially in high-conflict areas, can cause significant mental and emotional distress. Without a support system or early intervention, these internal struggles can develop into mental disorders.
Here are some of the mental health problems commonly observed among war veterans:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Military sexual trauma
The symptoms or manifestations of each condition may vary depending on the patient. However, in most cases, having a mental ailment hinders a person from living a healthy and fulfilling life after service. Some may even regress to a point where they can’t provide their basic needs or care for themselves. In these cases, patients need to have medical treatment, counseling, or therapy to restore their mental wellness.
War veterans become susceptible to mental illnesses due to the dangerous environment and harsh treatment they may have experienced upon deployment. Aside from this, many often lack the social and emotional support they need while they spend time away from family and friends for months or even years.
Various factors can cause mental health illness among war veterans. Some of them are as follows:
People can be traumatized by various experiences that threaten one’s safety and dignity. For instance, soldiers who suffered from physical and sexual abuse, violence, and bullying are impacted negatively by traumatic events during their service. Trauma may cause a person to have negative thought patterns and risky behavior, contributing to mental health degradation.
Soldiers face the harsh realities of war, including death, while deployed. However, not everyone receives support and guidance while going through the grief process. Such cases may negatively impact a person’s mental health because the strong emotions are not processed and expressed healthily.
- Constant Stress
Being in high-risk, life-threatening situations can cause significant stress on soldiers. Combat stress has negative consequences on health, commonly manifesting as chronic headaches and body pains, reduced sleep, or lethargy. As a result, these physical manifestations can harm a person’s mental state in the long run.
- Drug And Alcohol Abuse
Mental health illnesses can be aggravated further by substance abuse. Meanwhile, those who didn’t have a mental condition previously but are at high risk of developing one are more likely to succumb to psychological disorders. Because of this, many people who struggle with acclimating to a new environment after military discharge may resort to excessive use of substances to cope.
- Physical Injury
Some soldiers who get injured in combat may struggle mentally because of the life-threatening experience they’ve gone through. Others may also become traumatized because of pain or debilitation after a severe injury. In some cases, the mental illness may develop or worsen long after the wound has healed because of the emotional and psychological effects of the tragic event.
Besides the root causes, the lack of opportunity to express and process intense emotions may also contribute to the development of mental disorders. Given this, it’s crucial for people who experience chronic stress or traumatic events to have an avenue where they can freely express extreme emotions such as fear, anger, grief, or shame.
- Social Issues Related To Mental Health
People afflicted with mental ailments are prone to developing erratic behavior, which can cause negative consequences in various aspects of their lives. Some may be unable to fulfill responsibilities, regulate emotions, or maintain meaningful relationships. Because of the effects of mental disorders on a person’s behavior, they become more susceptible to the following situations:
- Estrangement or abandonment
- Domestic violence
- Financial instability or bankruptcy
- Conflict with the law
- Higher risk of self-harm or suicide
Many of these issues are common among undiagnosed patients or those unable to receive proper treatment and support for their condition. Because of lack of treatment and care, their mental disorder can worsen and cause permanent damage to their well-being.
As these problems can negatively impact one’s quality of life, it’s important to address mental health concerns right away to prevent them from affecting other aspects.
Various treatments can help alleviate symptoms of mental disorders and restore one’s psychological well-being. Here are some of the most common treatments recommended by experts:
Psychiatric medications are prescribed to alleviate symptoms of mental disorders and used in conjunction with other treatments and therapies. Some of the most common prescription medications include antianxiety drugs, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic formulations.
Psychotherapy involves discussing one’s condition and related concerns with a mental health professional. This treatment aims to help patients understand their mood, behavior, and thought processes concerning their ailment. They’ll also learn coping strategies to help them regulate emotions and manage behavior accordingly.
- Brain Stimulation Treatments
Some doctors recommend brain stimulation treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy, vagus nerve stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, when medications and other forms of treatment fail to improve a patient’s mental condition. These treatments physically stimulate the brain to enhance its function using magnets, electricity, or implants.
Rehabilitation is a general recommendation for those recovering from substance abuse and other types of addiction. Depending on the patient’s needs, the rehabilitation process may involve medical treatments, counseling, and group therapy. Rehabilitation aims to help patients develop healthy habits and avoid risky behavior that can threaten their well-being and safety.
- In-Patient Care
Some patients may also require in-patient care where they’ll be under constant care and supervision of medical professionals. This is usually necessary for those who need daily living assistance or intensive medical treatments.
Depending on the type of mental disorder and its severity, a patient may need to undergo a combination of treatments at a certain point to speed up and enhance the recovery process. Aside from treatment, it’s also essential for the patient to receive help and guidance from a support system. This group may include friends, family members, doctors and therapists, and a mental health organization that a patient can join during rehabilitation or recovery.
- Government Programs And Support For Veteran Patients
Veterans eligible for medical and psychiatric assistance can consult with medical centers, outpatient clinics, and veteran centers coordinating with the Department of Veterans Affairs in California. Meanwhile, veteran patients who are not eligible for healthcare benefits can receive treatment from other healthcare providers and community clinics. Those with emergent mental health concerns can go to Veterans Health Administration facilities for immediate consultation or treatment as needed.
- How You Can Help
Seeing a loved one struggle with mental illness can be a challenging experience. Because of the emotional distress it can trigger, providing support to a patient may be grueling for many. However, mental health patients must have a strong support system to help them stay on track for treatment and recovery. Given this, equipping yourself with sufficient knowledge and preparation may be helpful if you’d like to extend assistance to those who need it.
Some ways you can support someone struggling with their mental health are as follows:
- Know The Common Signs Of Deteriorating Mental Health
Some of the usual signs of mental illness include emotional outbursts, poor hygiene, inability to perform one’s job and other duties, abuse of drugs and alcohol, or social withdrawal. It’s also common to observe unusual behavior and mood changes early on. The symptoms may vary in each patient, though. Some may cope with or manage their behavior better than others.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to note that everyone who suffers from mental disorders requires immediate access to treatment and support, regardless of their symptoms or ability to cope. Moreover, while not all these symptoms are conclusive, it may still be helpful to consult with a mental health professional regarding any concerning changes in behavior. This way, their health and safety will be protected as needed.
- Support Your Loved One Through Recovery
One of the most important steps toward recovery is addressing the problem. However, it may prove to be the most demanding step as well. For some, mental health issues can be a sensitive topic to talk about at times, even among family members or trusted friends. Because of this, many patients tend to withdraw from their social circle to avoid the issue altogether.
This pattern can pose serious risks for patients, preventing them from reaching out to people who can help. For this reason, it’s essential to have people in their support system who are willing to step in and extend assistance. To give this kind of support to your loved ones, you’ll need to communicate with them in a patient and loving manner. It’s also important to show that you’re willing to listen and help without judgment.
As part of their support system, it’s also vital for you to explain the importance of early intervention to your loved one and encourage the patient to seek help as soon as possible.
- Learn More About Mental Health Disorders And Treatments
Being afflicted with a mental disorder can make a person feel vulnerable and isolated, and it’s common for patients to report feelings of guilt and shame because of the stigma associated with their condition. These negative feelings may get in the way of a patient’s recovery and cause hesitation to seek support.
You can encourage a loved one to reach out and stay in touch while recovering by showing you understand his struggles. You can do this by learning more about the patient’s condition and being mindful of what he is experiencing. Educating yourself about mental health issues is an essential foundation that will help you become a supportive figure the patient can trust and rely on. You’ll also know the best ways to show your support and offer assistance when needed.
- Address Potential Hurdles
One of the most common challenges patients and their support group face in the recovery process is the duration of treatment. The recovery speed may vary from one person to the next. Another consideration should be the possibility of relapse. Hence, it’s crucial to set and manage your expectations accordingly.
The keys to recovery include consistently following through with treatment and providing emotional support to the patient. That’s why everyone needs to stay on track and remain determined throughout the process.
Experiencing the atrocities of war can pose serious harm to a person’s overall health and well-being. However, full recovery is not beyond reach, provided that the patient receives immediate relief and treatment as required.
Patients recovering from mental illness may need to work together with a team who’ll provide various types of support to help them restore their psychological wellness and live healthier lives. While the recovery process may require time, patience, and understanding, having people ready to provide love and support can significantly help patients get through difficulties and stay on track.