Mental health is often perceived as that difficult conversation that most dread to speak about, especially when it comes to the men and women who are charged with protecting our country. As a society, there are often high expectations that are thrust upon America’s finest and when there are variations from the ideal image, a sense of hesitation comes along as an emotion and sometimes as a reaction.
The RAND Report
In the most recent RAND Report of health-related behavior surveys, we got a glimpse into the health and wellness of our military, from weight to mental health to sexual health, this study covered it all. Some of the key findings were staggering yet supportive of the need for a new paradigm as to how we view mental health. It was noted that one in three servicemembers reported a self-perceived need for mental health services. Twenty-five percent reported using these services, and 17 percent were told by someone to seek treatment. If these statistics are not alarming enough, almost one-fifth of servicemembers reported suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. Of note, according to the report, is that approximately thirty-five percent of active duty soldiers believe or feel that seeking mental health will damage their career.
The RAND Report goes even further by evaluating whether the deployment experiences, specifically combat exposure, have a significant impact on mental health. The report also adds that individuals who have deployed had reported higher rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and probable post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and those who have seen combat were at an even higher rate. Understanding the correlation is important because there needs to be steps taken in the future to better handle the repercussions of trauma related to combat exposure.
Where IAVA Members Stand
Since servicemembers are tomorrow’s veterans, it is not surprising that IAVA’s Member Survey has similarities to the RAND Report. According to IAVA members, veterans have access to services but only 16 percent believe that troops and veterans are getting the care they need for mental health injuries. Fifty-three percent of IAVA members were told by someone to seek help, and 80 percent did seek help as a result. In addition, 46 percent of IAVA members report experiencing PTSD and 42 percent have symptoms of depression. The IAVA Member Survey and the RAND Report both noted that there is a significant population in the armed services that are experiencing symptoms of PTSD and/ or depression.
While resources are provided for veterans, as the IAVA Member Survey shows, the stigma of seeking assistance is too great and many are concerned that it might affect their career.
There are many unknown elements that involve processing and confronting mental health. The data shared is not to alarm or shame servicemembers about their duty or experiences but to inform and illustrate that they are not alone. To expect our servicemembers to come home unaffected is not only unfair but unrealistic. Our servicemembers are just like anyone else, they are trained to be specialists in their fields and are trained to be in their physical prime. But no amount of training in the world can prepare them for what they see, hear, and feel in war or in times of conflict. They have experienced life changing events and they deserve care that can assist them in processing those events.
IAVA’s Got Your Back
Fortunately, there are programs, like IAVA’s RRRP team, that are actively working to eliminate this stigma; and working to allow our service members to understand these emotions and express their experiences in a way that educates and inspires others. The RRRP team assists veterans and their families when it comes to transitioning through different stages of their life. As shown in the latest RRRP Report mental health needs is a top concern for those that reach out to the RRRP team and the RRRP team is meeting the needs by working with the veterans, their families, and mental health specialist.
At the end of the day the numbers are factual and the need for mental health advocacy and assistance is clear. As a community that supports veterans and their families it is just as important to create a healing environment. The pressure to reach out for mental health assistance is not only on those who experience symptoms, but for everyone who wishes to take care of those who take care of our nation.