There are several mental health issues that military veterans are plagued with as a result of their time in service. A few examples of these issues include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, traumatic brain injury (TBI), anxiety, substance abuse, etc.
On the outside, military personnel may look unfazed; however many of them are dealing with a lot of things that non-military folks may not even begin to comprehend. The chaotic nature of the environment they might have served in could have left them exposed to certain negative situations that could have affected their mental health.
Therefore, we will discuss some of these mental health issues that these brave souls combat. In doing this, you will realize how much they require the support of a mental health counselor to help them deal with the issues they face. You can go to tampacounselingandwellness.com/ for information on the kind of counseling services offered to military veterans.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by exposure to a situation or experience that is overwhelming which in turn causes trauma that manifests itself later as a form of anxiety. The reason it is categorized as a mental disorder is that the brain fails to revert to its baseline levels once the incident is over; hence, it continues sending signals to the body to continue the release of stress-related chemicals and hormones.
The four main categories of symptoms that characterize post-traumatic stress disorder are:
1. Relieving the Experience
This symptom involves the mind playing back the experience repeatedly. This could be in different forms such as constantly having flashbacks of the traumatic event, having regular nightmares related to the incident, repeated and intrusive memories of the occurrence, reacting negatively to objects, places, situations, persons that cause a reminder of the happening, etc.
Avoidance is a symptom that includes avoiding people, things, places, or thoughts that trigger memories of the incident, feeling detached, emotional numbness, memory issues, becoming emotionally guarded, interest loss in daily activities, feeling hopeless, etc.
Military veterans suffering from PTSD are always hyper-aroused. Hence, they will scan their surroundings from time to time for danger, some have concentration problems, they can be startled easily, their sleep patterns are erratic, irritability levels are increased, etc.
4. Negative Feelings, Thoughts, or Moods
Another symptom category is the negative emotions they tend to carry. Hence, they are riddled with guilt; for example, they weren’t able to save a civilian or a fellow soldier. Such an incident could leave them feeling guilty for what happened.
On the other hand, some could help end blaming or criticizing others for what had happened. Some other individuals lose interest in people and activities.
Traumatic events such as military combat, sexual abuse, accident of any kind, etc. are necessary for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in an individual; the interesting thing is that not every negative experience will lead to PTSD.
Statistics show that the number of men in America who will suffer from PTSD throughout their lifetime is only 4%, while that of women in America is 10%. When it comes to military veterans, the percentage is higher.
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), as well as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans who suffered from PTSD, ranged from 11 to 20% in a particular year. 12% of veterans from the Gulf War (Desert Storm) faced PTSD annually, while 15% of veterans from the Vietnam War were affected annually. Furthermore, Vietnam veterans have a 30% PTSD lifetime prevalence.
The numbers are a clear indication of what these brave individuals go through mentally. They experience situations that could be straight up horrifying and in a good number of cases life-threatening. Given the number of such situations they will most likely encounter, one traumatic event could be all that is needed to cause the development of PTSD.
Hence, this is one of the reasons military veterans require counseling to help them deal with the traumatic events that have occurred in their lives.
Anxiety and Depression
Other mental health issues that veterans struggle with are anxiety and depression. These are issues that negatively affect the emotion and mood of an individual. There are certain factors responsible for the prevalence of these issues among military personnel. Some of these factors include poor mental and physical health, financial problems, unemployment, etc.
It is no secret that some soldiers who return from service find it difficult to connect with their family and friends. The reason for this disconnect is that they don’t feel these close individuals can relate to the ordeal they have gone through. In some cases, they prefer not to share because they don’t want their family and friends to be burdened with the gruesome things they have seen.
Furthermore, because they feel that these individuals cannot relate to the negative situations they encountered, they believe that they can’t offer emotional support that will be meaningful. As a result of all these thoughts, they sometimes isolate themselves socially. Sadly, such an action causes the matter to get worse rather than better.
Apart from the factors we mentioned above responsible for anxiety and depression, survivor’s guilt is a huge cause of these issues. Click here to find out more about survivor’s guilt. When a soldier survives whereas his friends or team are killed in action, it can cause serious anxiety and depression.
These mental issues can be treated with professional help and care. If left untreated, it could affect one’s lifespan and lead to other physical health complications.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Being in the military is a risky job with possibilities of bodily damage. While the entire body is susceptible to damage, the brain is one body part that when damaged could pose so many problems for the affected individual.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a widely discussed topic in the field of mental and medical health. Veterans from different operations have shown symptoms of this issue. However, it is most common with those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Its prevalence among these groups of veterans is so high that TBI is regarded as the “signature injury” of those operations.
The causes of traumatic brain injury include a sharp blow to one’s head, an explosion within close range, or the head hitting a strong object.
Veterans who suffer from this mental condition could end up becoming disoriented, confused, prone to slow thinking, and in some cases may become comatose.
One of the major symptoms of this condition is the loss of memory of events that occurred before the incident and events that occurred immediately after the incident. Hence, such people experience a lot of time gaps during that period which they have no memory of.
Some other consequences of this issue are physical deficits, emotional deficiencies, cognitive ability loss, and behavioral changes.
The not too recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan left statistics that showed that 78% of the injuries in those conflicts were a result of explosive ammunition. Concussion which is a mild traumatic brain injury was the most rampant injury with about 15% of the total number of combatants experiencing this problem.
As a result of how rampant such injuries are, a whole lot of care is put in to ensure that veterans who experience such incidents are effectively treated. In fact, it is one of the military mental issues that is swiftly attended to.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Although MST is not as widely discussed as TBI, it is a reality notwithstanding. Military sexual assault is any sexual harassment that threatens in character or physical sexual assault of any kind that happens while in military service irrespective of the location, gender, and relationship of the victim to the offender.
Certain studies have shown that an estimated 1% of military men (32,000) and 22% of military women (23,000) have been exposed to some form of sexual assault or have experienced recurrent sexual harassment while in service.
Military sexual trauma has led to all sorts of mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral issues. Chief among these issues are PTSD, depression, anxiety, risk of suicide, and substance dependency. Visit https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/types/sexual_trauma_military.asp to learn more about MST.
As a result of the above, it is vital that military veterans open up about such sexual traumatic incidents to help them overcome such negative emotions.
Other Mental Issus Veterans Experience
While the issues we have discussed so far are the most prominent, other issues also plague these individuals such as suicidal ideation, sleep apnea, alcohol and drug abuse, dementia, and anger issues.
Military veterans suffer from a lot of mental issues as a result of their time in service. However, with proper counseling, many of these issues can be resolved.