The Unique Challenges Vets Face, and 5 Ways to Support the Vets in Your Life
Whether you’re a vet who’s recently come home, or one of your loved ones is, you may feel a complex range of emotions. Veterans may be joyful to be back with family and happy to be in a place they know well. But they also may be missing their sisters and brothers in arms. Many veterans find adjusting to home life difficult once the freshness of being back wears off. And post-combat vets are at high risk for mental illnesses – which may not be obvious to loved ones. Let’s talk about the unique challenges vets face and ways to support them.
According to the National Center for Veteran Statistics and Analysis, there are currently 20 million vets in the United States. Veterans Day helps us acknowledge the time that veterans have served, and what they’ve sacrificed in the name of our country. Yet supporting vets goes beyond one day out of the year. If you have a close loved one who has served, you may feel like you don’t have the tools to help them.
Coming home is often a big adjustment for recently discharged service members. And even once they’ve been home for a while, it’s not unusual for mental illness symptoms to arise over time. What should you know about the unique risks and challenges vets face? And how can you help your loved one adjust to life at home?
KarmaDocs and KarmaTMS are integrative psychiatry clinics with a passion for treating veterans and people with trauma-based mental illnesses. Our patients often come to us after being disappointed with first-line medications and psychotherapy. They’ve tried other methods without feeling their symptoms ease in a meaningful way.
We help these people create a plan for healing with
- Medication management
- Supportive psychotherapy
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
- And more
We don’t just want to help patients relieve their mental illness. We want them to achieve mental wellness.
Looking to help the veterans in your life be mentally well? Read on to learn about the mental health challenges vets may face when they come home after deployment.
Understanding the Challenges Veterans Face
When you think of mental illness in vets, you probably think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And rates of trauma-related problems are high in vets; it’s estimated that 14-16% of veterans have depression or PTSD. Yet these aren’t the only problems veterans are at higher risk for after returning home. Are you supporting a loved one as they transition out of military service? Let’s talk about all the mental health problems you should know about.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans
Military service can expose individuals to traumatic events, which may lead to them developing PTSD. Veterans who go through combat situations are particularly at risk. Others who are also at higher risk2 are
- People who served in the Army
- People who served for longer deployments2
In addition, the rates of sexual assault are high in the military, and the trauma associated can also lead to PTSD.
PTSD is a complex problem that is difficult to treat with medications and psychotherapy. We’ve found success by combining these treatments with integrative methods – such as mindfulness training and TMS therapy. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional.
You can read more about the signs of PTSD on our blog.
PTSD is the most commonly discussed mental illness that vets face, but it’s far from being the only one. During service, military service members are also at an increased risk for head injuries and traumatic brain injuries. Let’s talk about them.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBIs) and Veteran Mental Health
Veterans are at higher risk for head injuries and TBIs during combat and training. A jolt, bump, or blow to the head can cause brain swelling. If these injuries are repeated, they can lead to long-term changes. More than 185,000 vets in the Veteran Affairs (VA) system have been diagnosed with one or more TBI.
The consequences of TBIs depend on how severe the injury is, but they include
- Memory problems
Brain scans can now detect these injuries, and treatments like emotional support and rehabilitation are helpful. But vets coming home may also struggle with worrying thoughts, sadness, and depression. Let’s talk about them.
Veterans and Depression/Anxiety Disorders
Vets are also at higher risk for mood problems, especially depression and anxiety disorders. These don’t always manifest in the way we think. Depression can also look like
- More feelings of anger
- Losing enthusiasm for activities you used to love
- Thinking of suicide
Anxiety is linked to PTSD. The symptoms may include racing thoughts and the constant need to be on-guard.
Trials of veterans with depression have shown that integrated care models are beneficial. Even for service members with combined depression – alongside anxiety and substance use – getting a holistic mental health care plan can offer hope and recovery.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, here’s our guide for getting help.
Let’s talk about how common substance addiction is in the post-combat population.
Comorbidities of Substance Abuse and PTSD in Veterans
PTSD is strongly linked with substance use problems in veterans. More than 1 in 10 service members struggle with substance addiction. Among vets, people with past trauma before they joined the military are at increased risk for issues with substances. These include
- Prescription medications
- Street substances
Substance abuse can be especially challenging for families of veterans because it causes ripple effects for everyone around them.
Veterans who are just coming home or have been out of service for some time face unique risks and challenges. But there are ways that they can get better support at home and feel better overall. Loneliness and isolation is a big problem among veterans, and it also tends to make mental illnesses worse.
By offering support, loved ones can build their veteran friends and family up. Let’s talk about specific ways to do just that.
5 Ways to Support the Veterans in Your Life
Here are 5 practical and actionable ways that you can support the veterans in your life:
- Educate yourself on the mental health risk factors faced by veterans. By understanding these risk factors, you can look out for symptoms and offer more close support when it’s needed.
- Listen and be present. Simply being there to listen and support veterans makes a big difference. Sometimes, just listening without judgment and offering a kind ear go a long way. At other times, you listening can help them process and realize they need professional help.
- Don’t push your loved one to share if they’re not comfortable. Many vets don’t want to talk about the experiences they had. Often because they know that the people in their lives may not understand what they went through. You don’t need to push them to reveal more information than they want to.
- Research their resources if they need help, but don’t push an agenda on them. It’s easy to think you know what’s best for your loved ones, but letting them make their own decisions will reinforce their trust in you.
- Advocate for veteran mental health. Support policies and funding that support mental health services for veterans. This can include writing to elected officials, attending rallies or protests, or raising awareness on social media.
The Role of Integrative Psychiatry in Supporting Veterans
If you or someone you love is struggling with veteran mental illness – we want you to know you’re not alone. The experience of coming home from service can be isolating, and these big adjustments take time. Don’t expect you or your loved one to assimilate back into “normal” life in a day or two. Be patient with yourself and the people you love.
If you’re looking for professional support in this transition, getting expert help may ease the stress of this time. Integrative psychiatry isn’t just for people with diagnosed mental illness. Whether you’re looking for treatment, symptom diagnosis, or just a guiding hand, KarmaTMS is here for veterans.
If you’d like to learn more about mental illness related to trauma, check out these other articles on our blog page:
The Science Behind PTSD Flashbacks — And What to Do if You Have One
Who Has the Most Risk Factors for PTSD? The Answer May Surprise You
Is Generational Trauma Real? And How to Know if it Affects Your Family
1)U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. Veteran population projections 2017-2037. Washington, DC 2016. https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/Demographics/New_Vetpop_Model/Vetpop_Infographic_Final31.pdf
2)Inoue C, Shawler E, Jordan CH, et al. Veteran and Military Mental Health Issues. [Updated 2022 May 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK572092/
3)Galovski TE, Street AE, Creech S, Lehavot K, Kelly UA, Yano EM. State of the Knowledge of VA Military Sexual Trauma Research. J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Sep;37(Suppl 3):825-832. doi: 10.1007/s11606-022-07580-8. Epub 2022 Aug 30. PMID: 36042078; PMCID: PMC9481813.
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8)Young, L. B., Timko, C., Pulido, R. D., Tyler, K. A., Beaumont, C., & Grant, K. M. (2020). Traumatic childhood experiences and posttraumatic stress disorder among veterans in substance use disorder treatment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(23-24). https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260519900937
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