Veterans & Mental Health: How to Help

The stress of military service and deployments takes a toll on both soldiers and their families. With higher rates of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as compared to civilians, it’s unfortunately all-too-common for our veterans to struggle with their mental health during and after their deployments.

Similar to the obstacles that civilians face when accessing mental healthcare, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that among veterans, key barriers to receiving mental health treatment include:

  • Stigma and beliefs about mental health care
  • Logistical challenges to accessing mental health care
  • Concerns about the quality of health care they’re receiving

Many veterans avoid seeking help out of concern of appearing “weak” or “damaged.” But the truth is that many millions of Americans have depression, and according to veteran and host of the VetStory podcast Rod Rodriguez, “in the veteran community, one in three veterans suffer from some sort of depression.” Rod recently had Col. (Retired) Geoffrey Grammer, MD, Greenbrook’s Chief Medical Officer and Bill Leonard, Greenbrook’s founder, on an episode of VetStory to discuss depression among veterans and how TMS Therapy can be an effective treatment option when medications haven’t helped.

The need for effective depression treatment is apparent. According to 2019’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, in 2017 veterans made up 7.9% of the U.S. adult population but represented 13.5% of all adult suicides. Because a mood disorder (such as depression) is present in an estimated 60% of people who die from suicide, one way to prevent suicide is to be on the lookout for signs of depression and encourage people to seek treatment. Though a diagnosis should be made only by a qualified medical professional, symptoms of depression include:

  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in weight from decreased or increased appetite
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • Depressed mood and feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

If you’ve noticed these symptoms in someone you know, encourage them to seek help. That can be easier said than done, especially with a veteran who doesn’t want to appear as anything less than strong. Sometimes, flat-out asking someone “Are you depressed?” can be met with denial or hostility because it feels like an accusation.

Greenbrook’s Dr. Grammer says that in situations like these, you can try a different approach with someone who’s reluctant to get treatment. He says that “For some people, hearing ‘you’re depressed’ can seem nebulous and make it hard to integrate into their decision-making process. What you can do instead is focus on the particular symptoms that are impacting a person’s life with statements like ‘I’ve seen that you’re not sleeping well,’ ‘You’re not eating well,’ ‘You seem tired all the time,’ or ‘You don’t look like you’re feeling well.’ No one wants to feel bad, so if you ask them how they’d like to feel and they respond that they’d like more energy or they would like to not feel sad all the time, that can be a way of motivating people. You can tell them ‘If you want to feel differently, let’s go figure out what’s wrong. Let’s figure out why you’re not where you want to be, and let’s get you in to see someone.’

For more, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health resources. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, get immediate emergency assistance by calling 911, available 24 hours a day.

 

The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

Always consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.

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