When we think of veterans, we often picture the brave men and women who have served their country and returned home as heroes. However, what many people don’t recognize is that these heroes often face a second battle when they return home. A silent battle with mental health.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, in 2020 approximately 5.2 million veterans experienced a behavioral health condition (mental health or substance abuse). More concerning, however, is the number of veterans who did not seek any help. Studies suggest that over half of veterans with a mental health condition and over 90% of veterans with substance abuse issues did not seek treatment. This goes to show how our heroes may be suffering in silence and that it’s time to bring awareness to this growing problem.

Valley Hospital of Phoenix, Arizona, is dedicated to the health and well-being of our veterans. In this article, we’ll explore the rising issue of mental health in veterans, the importance of mental health advocacy and awareness and what we can do to help our nation’s heroes.

What Mental Illnesses Do Veterans Struggle With?

An upset soldier looks directly at the camera while being photographed outdoors.

While serving our country, veterans are exposed to high levels of stress due to the demanding nature of their duties. They may experience combat, witness injury or death and face life-threatening situations. These experiences can have a significant mental health toll on veterans, potentially leading to the development of mental health issues when they return home.

Among veterans, common mental health conditions include PTSD, depression and anxiety. Veterans are also prone to developing substance abuse disorders.

PTSD

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. For veterans, this can be a common occurrence while serving our country.

Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and avoidance of situations that remind veterans of the traumatic event. These symptoms typically persist long after the traumatic event takes place. This means that veterans may experience these intrusive and distressing symptoms well after they have returned home.

PTSD can have far-reaching effects on veterans’ lives. It may affect their reintegration into civilian life, relationships, employment and overall quality of life. PTSD can also lead to the development of other mental health disorders or may lead to substance abuse.

Depression

Depression is another mental health issue commonly observed in veterans. Depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of pleasure in activities that once brought joy.

Depression may affect veterans in several ways. For example, many veterans report having a bleak outlook on life after serving their country. As a result, they may struggle to find joy or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. Veterans with depression may engage in social withdrawals and isolation, as their experiences while serving may have made it difficult for them to maintain relationships and engage in social activities.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are a mental health condition characterized by excessive and persistent feelings of worry and fear. They can have a significant impact on veterans. Because of what they experienced while serving, veterans may experience hypervigilance, intense feelings of fear or worry, and avoidance behaviors (for example, they may avoid certain places, activities or social situations they perceive as threatening or which provoke their anxiety).

The impact of anxiety disorders on veterans can make it difficult for them to integrate into civilian life. The profound effects of anxiety can make it difficult for them to maintain employment, relationships and social engagement. Anxiety can also cause self-isolating behaviors, meaning that veterans often face these issues alone.

Substance abuse disorders

Substance abuse disorder is a mental health condition characterized by the excessive and compulsive use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco or illicit narcotics. Substance abuse is a serious issue among veterans.

Veterans may turn to substances as a means of self-medicating the physical or mental pains resulting from their military duties. Veterans are also prone to co-occurring disorders, which is when someone suffers from both a mental health condition and substance abuse. Among veterans, PTSD and substance abuse comorbidity are common.

How to Help Veterans With Mental Illness

Whether you’re a veteran yourself or a loved one concerned about their well-being, there are many ways for you to get involved in your community.

Educate yourself and others

The first step in finding mental health help for veterans is to educate yourself and those around you. Learn more about what resources are available to veterans and why mental health conversations are so important to have. Find out whether an inpatient or outpatient program can provide your loved one with the support they need. Share articles, explore mental health treatment options in your community, and have open and honest conversations with your loved ones.

Educating yourself about veterans and mental illness empowers you to make the right choices for your or your loved ones’ long-term mental health and well-being.

Support organizations that help veterans

There are many organizations dedicated to supporting veterans and their mental health. By supporting these organizations, you can help provide resources and support for veterans in need.

Organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) all work to support veterans and their mental health. Consider donating or volunteering with these organizations to make a difference in the lives of veterans.

Advocate for better mental health care for veterans

Mental health care for veterans is a serious issue that needs more attention. This can include advocating for increased funding for mental health services for veterans, as well as pushing for better mental health training for healthcare providers who work with veterans. By increasing access to mental health services, veterans can see that they do not need to struggle alone.

Seek mental health treatment

There are many options for veterans seeking mental health treatment depending on where they are in their recovery.

Inpatient programs can help veterans whose symptoms have become intense enough to cause significant harm and disruption to their daily lives. By living on-site at a treatment facility, veterans can receive the structured support they need to reclaim their lives before transitioning back into society.

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), an outpatient program modality, can help veterans with moderate mental health issues. This program is common for those who have recently completed an inpatient program or wish to avoid living in a treatment facility. By receiving more frequent care, veterans can receive the help they need while still living independently.

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), another outpatient program modality, can help veterans with mild symptoms. IOPs can help veterans manage mild mental health symptoms on a less frequent basis than PHPs.

Freedom Care Program at Valley Hospital

Valley Hospital of Phoenix, Arizona, proudly provides our Freedom Care Program for veterans and first responders. The Freedom Care program is a mental health program specifically designed for veterans and first responders. Our comprehensive military-centric approach to treatment tackles common mental health issues among veterans, including PTSD, addiction, mood disorders and anxiety disorders.

The Freedom Care program is offered as an inpatient program, partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP). This means that no matter where you are in your mental health journey, Valley Hospital is here to provide the level of care you need.

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling with mental health issues, know that help is available. Reach out to Valley Hospital at 602-957-4000 or complete this form to get started on your mental health recovery journey today.

If you are in crisis and need assistance immediately, call 911 or 988 for the Suicide Prevention Hotline.