Serving in the U.S. military is an honorable commitment, and service members often face extreme conditions serving their country. When returning to civilian life, veterans may experience mental health conditions that inhibit their ability to maintain a healthy life. According to a 2019National Association of American Veteransreport, 15.3% of Veterans experience a mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or substance abuse. However, starting the conversation about mental health can be challenging when veterans often face multiple barriers when they reach out and seek treatment.
Addressing Mental Health Stigma Among Veterans
Though mental health, in general, has become less stigmatized in the last decade, there is still a lot of work to be done to break down the stigmas affecting veterans seeking mental health services. Many veterans experience mental health conditions after their service, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, that can affect their ability to maintain healthy relationships and perform their day-to-day duties.
Veterans face both external and internal stigma surrounding seeking mental health care. Onestudyreported that approximately 60% of active military personnel who experience mental health problems do not seek help. This was due to many concerns, including the fear that their leaders would treat them differently and the fear of being perceived as weak. This culture of strength and unity may lead active military members, as well as veterans, to fear external judgement for seeking care for their mental health. Veterans may also fear being diagnosed and what seeking treatment entails, whether that’s medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
Barriers to Seeking Mental Health Services
Many Veterans face multiple barriers to accessing mental health services, including a lack of understanding of treatment options, lack of access to specialized care, and lack of continuity in mental health care. These barriers, compounded with the stigma and negative stereotypes often associated with seeking mental health services, can present many challenges for veterans to overcome. In fact,fewer than 50%of Veterans in need receive any mental health treatment. As a community, Veterans are in need of more holistic support and accessible mental health services. Overcoming these barriers are the first step toward receiving the care they need to maintain a sustainable quality of life.
Accessing Mental Health Services Through the VA
Many Veterans rely on the VA for their health care services. Veterans can accessVA mental health servicesby visiting theMilitary OneSourcewebsite or calling their phone number any time day or night. This first step toward seeking help can be intimidating, but the VA is dedicated to helping Veterans reach the care they need. TheVAalso offers resources for a variety of smartphone apps that can be used in combination with professional services to help Veterans manage their mental and physical health.
Starting the Conversation
One of the best resources for Veterans to reach out to for understanding and solidarity is their fellow Veterans, whether friends, family, or those they served with. If beginning the process to seek professional help seems too far out of reach, start small. Look for Veteran-led peer support groups in your area. Organizations such as theWounded Warrior Project, run Veteran peer support groups in multiple states across the U.S. For Veterans looking for virtual support groups, there are also a number of Facebook groups for Veteran peer support that can provide access to other individuals going through similar experiences and additional resources. If Veterans or their families are looking for resources in their area, they can also utilize Rangam’s Veterans’ Support Portal,SourceVets, which connects them with service providers that can assist them with their job search journey and connecting with their local branch of U.S. Veterans.
Addressing stigma and barriers to seeking mental health care among veterans is an essential step toward ensuring their quality of life and overall well-being. By raising awareness of those barriers and stigmas, reaching out to start the conversation with the Veterans in our lives, and providing access to resources and mental health services, we can create a more empathetic and understanding community of support. As a society, there is so much more we can do to serve those who have served our country.