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Mental Health: What Soldiers Bring Home

behavioral health issues with military personnel

We’ve been through two deployments and my husband didn’t meet his second child until she was six months old. I love being a military wife. I understand the sacrifice that my husband has made for his country and I’m so proud of him… But it takes a toll.

We PCSed to the Lexington area about a year ago and while we are still a tight-knit family, I mean you have to be when the rest of your family is across the country, I’ve started to notice some changes.

He snaps at me and the kids more and just seems distant. I’ve tried to talk to him but he insists everything is “fine”. He’s also started to drink more.

I wonder if it could be PTSD, he’s obviously not going to talk to me about the things he saw or might have had to do, or even some other mental illness. He doesn’t want to go to the VA because he doesn’t want anything in his medical records, but I wish he had somewhere to go to get help with PTSD.

Loose Lips Sink Ships: Men’s Mental Health in the Military

There has recently been a lot of media coverage surrounding men’s mental health in the media. Sports stars and celebrities alike have opened up about their battles with depression, anxiety, and other types of mental health disorders.

While it is good to talk and break down those barriers, we aren’t seeing the change as much inside of our own military. There is still a heavy stigma associated with being strong and not talking about feelings.

And while they may not be opening up about their mental health conditions, the numbers don’t lie. Within the active component, the suicide rate was 25 per 100,000 personnel.

In the service reserves, the suicide rate for 2018 WAS 22.9 suicides per 100,000, and in the National Guard, the 2018 suicide rate was 30.6 per 100,000, according to a report released by the Department of Defense. Kentucky, as a whole, remains high on the list with a suicide rate of 17.2% and veterans and active-duty personnel being 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide.

While they also cited that:

“The majority of Service members that die by suicide were not diagnosed with a mental illness”.

That begs the question of whether they never had a mental health issue or if they had simply never sought treatment…(we can probably guess which one).

Part of the training is learning to cope with dangerous situations, how to handle firearms, and how to protect your battle buddy and unit. There are no safe spaces. When these men come home and find themselves dealing with symptoms of mood disorders, depression, symptoms of PTSD, panic attacks, and social anxiety, it’s hard to reconcile with the soldier that they were molded into.

“The first time I came back in country and heard fireworks go off, I felt an immediate rush. I was back and I went into panic mode.

I didn’t know how to deal. There were no enemies. Then I felt stupid, Like, Dude, you lived through the real thing and now a bottle rocket had you running for cover?

I didn’t want to tell anyone. It was embarrassing”.

This is just one example of the ways that soldiers often deal with the flood emotions that come after returning from a deployment. They have to learn how to shut off “soldier mode” and go back to being a husband, a father, a coworker.

There’s no one to tell them when they have to get up or go to sleep (if nightmares from PTSD don't keep you up), when to eat, when to exercise, or even when to shower. They are transitioning from a very regimented, stressful situation to a very unregimented social situation and it can be confusing.

Traumatic Events: I Thought I Wanted Action

War is never easy, and with most soldiers having an average of two deployments under their belts, it never gets easier. There’s time away from family and friends, but also the very real threat of not coming home or seeing the friends they’ve made and other members of their unit die beside them.

They may also be dealing with survivor’s guilt. While they may feel elation at being able to return to their loved ones, it’s soured by the thought that they aren’t all coming home in one piece or maybe even the feeling that it should have been them, that they should have died with their buddies.

This can lead to a whole host of mental and behavioral health issues

One of the most common that we in the behavioral health field hear about is PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Being in the military is not for the faint of heart. Making it through training and earning the uniform is taxing in and of itself. Experiencing war and other aspects of combat can lead to the development of PTSD.

PTSD and other types of anxiety disorders occur when a person experiences or even witnesses a traumatic event. It can leave them feeling scared, hopeless, or even helpless. Some people have triggers that may set off flashbacks. PTSD can be debilitating and can interfere with daily activities.

Some other anxiety disorders include

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Phobia (Social anxiety disorder)

Like other mental health issues, when not treated, people tend to try and self-medicate to make themselves feel better. They may develop an alcohol use disorder or other addiction as a way to block some of those feelings. This can lead to the need for a dual-diagnosis facility that can help with both the addiction and the mental health disorder.

We Can Do It!

According to research, as many as 50% of veterans experience significant difficulty acclimating to home life, with 33% developing mental health problems including PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression.

The good news is that awareness is getting more attention and people speaking out about the mental issues that veterans have is becoming more prevalent. With new younger soldiers, airmen, and seaman coming into the military we are starting to see a shift in mindset.

That shift in mindset is allowing for earlier interventions that are an integral part of getting ahead of these mental health issues before they become chronic, or if they are chronic, to be able to improve life function. Many people believe that PTSD should be considered a disability. Early intervention can increase functional ability, rapid symptom recovery, prevention of unhealthy coping behaviors, and prevention of chronic PTSD and other psychopathology, including complicated grief. Is it time to get help for your depression or other mental health issues? Take our no-cost mental health screening.

At SUN Behavioral Health, we are committed to helping solve the unmet mental health needs in our community.  We are a TRICARE facility dedicated to helping our troops through any mental health issues that they or their families might be experiencing. If you or someone you love is being affected please contact us today. 


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