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Caring For Those Who Serve: Veterans Mental Health

A Salute to Our Veterans

Veterans Day is a day to remember and reflect on the sacrifices of our military veterans and also to thank them for their service. It’s a celebration that honors America's veterans for their patriotism and willingness to offer their lives for the common good.

Veterans in this country come from different eras, fought in different battles, used different weaponry and wore different uniforms, but they all share a common experience: the experience of training, moving from place to place, fighting (or training to fight) and living a life that is ever changing. Veterans returning from combat often experience waves of emotions in response to surviving traumatic events, such as being attacked or seeing others wounded or killed.

Some veterans have trouble concentrating, relive traumatic events, or have thoughts of death or suicide. They may also use drugs, drink too much, or have trouble sleeping.

For many veterans, these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are reactions to difficult experiences that fade as they adjust to civilian life. But for some, they could be signs of serious mental health problems, dubbed “invisible wounds” in a landmark RAND study.

RAND research shows that veterans who have been deployed are more likely than civilians to experience mental health conditions or cognitive injuries. In fact, one in five U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan experience PTSD or major depression.

Strengthening our fighting forces is a group effort. If you’re concerned about a friend or colleague, the most important thing you can do is to ask how they’re doing and to listen without judgment. The symptoms of a mental health condition can sometimes make individuals forget that mission success relies on staying healthy in mind as well as body. They might not realize that their worries are symptoms of mental illness. Listen patiently, offer encouragement and remind them that anyone can develop these symptoms, from privates to generals.

Remind your fellow warrior that the central mission of the armed forces is to maintain a strong fighting force. Share the information here with him or her. Emphasize that talking to a counselor or medical officer won’t hurt career or security clearance, and that every service member has a duty to build resilience by seeking advice and treatment when it’s indicated.

Nearly 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry. There are three primary mental health concerns that you or someone you know may encounter serving in the military:

  • Postraumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, disasters or sexual assault can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, being jumpy and alcohol and drug abuse. When these troubles don't go away, it could be PTSD.

  • Depression. More than just experiencing sadness, depression doesn't mean you are weak, nor is it something that you can simply "just get over." Depression interferes with daily life and normal functioning and may require treatment.

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A traumatic brain injury is usually the result of significant blow to the head or body. Symptoms can include headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems and mood changes and mood swings.

5 Ways to Support Veterans Mental Health

  1. Understand Suicide- Our veterans are at risk, and we as a nation need to support them. If a veteran tells you they are suicidal, take it seriously. Talk to them, encourage them and ask them to seek help from a mental health professional.

  2. Understand PTSD-Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault and disasters can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, being jumpy and alcohol and drug abuse. If you notice that someone in your life, a friend, coworker, fellow student or family member has symptoms, refer them to a professional for care.

  3. Understand TBI- A TBI may not be noticeable at first, don’t assume that all wounds are visible. Memory problems or mood changes could be the result of depression or another mood disorder or it could be a traumatic brain injury.

  4. Understand Depression- Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. Symptoms include persistently sad or irritable mood, changes in sleep, appetite, energy, problems with memory and concentration, lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. You can help someone with depression by helping them accomplish tasks that are difficult from day to day. If a veteran is severely depressed and suicidal, get them help immediately. This is something that should be taken seriously.

  5. Understand Anxiety- Anxiety effects many. It can manifest itself as a panic attack or overall sense of unease. You could help by being available if/when a veteran is in crisis. This could involve letting them know you are there, offering assistance and support.

If someone you know tells you about a mental health concern, don’t laugh it off or promise it will get better on its own, even if you want to comfort the person. The stresses of deployment and military life put soldiers at risk for mental illness and make treating them more complicated. The military medical system can’t succeed in its mission to “restore the fighting force” without the help of all personnel to encourage treating mental health conditions swiftly before they can worsen. For more advice, recommend that your loved one or friend call us at Comprehensive Family Care 404-585-7533.


Herrera-Yee, I. (2019, November 13). 5 ways you can support veterans’ mental health. NAMI- National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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