Servicemen and women have always taken care of their physical health. In today’s world, mental health is just as important.
While military life can be rewarding, it is also difficult. According to a study conducted in 2014, 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. The mental health concerns of veterans are unique. Things you might have seen or experienced during your time in the military can affect your long term mental health, and make it difficult to transition to civilian life. Even veterans that have successfully transitioned may have lingering mental health concerns.
The three most common mental health concerns for veterans are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Learn more about these mental health concerns below.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a common mental health disorder among veterans. Experiences like military combat, disasters, assault and sexual assault can result in PTSD. Often, a person experiencing PTSD will relive the traumatic event in thoughts or dreams and will take precautions to avoid situations that trigger memories of the event. In turn, this can prevent them from leading a productive life and make the transition into civilian life more difficult.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Reliving the event - Veterans with PTSD might have recurring nightmares or flashbacks of traumatic events. Sometimes images, sounds or even smells can trigger a flashback or cause emotional distress.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event - Avoiding large crowds or places that remind you of a traumatic event is common. A person experience symptoms PTSD may even avoid seeking therapy or counseling in order to avoid talking or thinking about the event.
- Negative changes in beliefs or feelings - Relationships might become difficult after a traumatic event since PTSD can cause a person to feel negative feelings towards their loved ones or relationships in general. This is because relationships and especially strangers may feel unsafe, causing PTSD sufferers to alienate themselves and avoid relationships altogether.
- Hyperarousal - When we are stressed, this triggers a response called fight-or-flight. In most cases, when the event is over, we are able to calm down and the fight-or-flight response subsides. However, people who experience PTSD symptoms find themselves in a state of hyperarousal, in which the fight-or-flight response does not subside and instead causes them to feel jittery, unable to sleep, easily startled or unsafe in everyday, nonthreatening situations.
What is depression?
Depression commonly occurs after traumatic events. It is characterized by a low mood that lasts for more than a few days. Depression can disrupt your daily life by affecting your sleep, appetite and your desire to interact with others. For some, depression and PTSD can be co-occurring mental health disorders. Sufferers of PTSD are 3 to 5 times more likely to experience depression compared to those without symptoms of PTSD, according to a national survey.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression can include:
- Feeling sad or down more often than not for a period lasting longer than 2 weeks
- Lack of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Difficulty focusing
- Feeling hopeless
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Traumatic Brain Injury
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI, is a common deployment-related injury. For active service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, the chance of TBI is 1 in 5. TBI occurs when the brain is hit with an outside force. This can be shocks from explosions or injuries from assault. TBI causes brain function to be temporarily impaired or altered and while it is a serious injury, it does not have any outward physical signs earning it the title of “invisible wound".
What are the symptoms of TBI?
Cognitive symptoms of TBI include:
- Changes in memory
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty with planning and judgment
- Poor impulse control
Emotional symptoms of TBI include:
- Irritability and anger
Physical symptoms of TBI include:
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Weakness in the limbs
- Lack of coordination or balance
- Sensitivity to light or touch
Resources for Veterans
You can learn more about these common mental health concerns for veterans by reading the information provided on the following websites:
- After Deployment - wellness resources for the military community where you can learn about a variety of mental health concerns for veterans
- Real Warriors - a campaign from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury that assists military personnel recover and build resilience
Counseling can help you understand the symptoms that you may be experiencing and give you the tools to lead a more productive life. Our counselors in Central Florida have a proud tradition of working with veterans and their families. Learn more about our counseling centers and schedule an appointment.