Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face the challenge of transitioning into civilian life. This transition comes with a number of obstacles, not the least of which is taking care of their mental health. Research shows that a growing number of returning veterans are trying to make this transition into civilian life while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses. Fortunately, now more than ever, there are resources available to help veterans take care of their mental health. If you are a veteran returning from a recent deployment, you can begin taking care of your mental health today by following these six tips.
Returning from a long deployment overseas can often leave veterans feeling isolated and directionless. One of the most beneficial ways to begin feeling like your old self is to actively pursue the hobbies, goals, and passions that make you happy. Going back to school is a great way to jump start this pursuit. There are a number of scholarships for veterans that can help ease your financial burden, and you will also want to learn about your GI Bill to find out how you can go back to school at little or no cost.
Utilize Campus Mental Health Services
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a quarter to a third of veterans returning from the war will have some kind of mental health disorder. A large number of these servicemen and women will be attending colleges and universities and will need a tremendous amount of mental health support. This growing need for campus mental health programs has resulted in a push for campuses to provide specialized support to student veterans. The US Department of Veterans Affairs even offers an online toolkit for staff, faculty and administrators to help student veterans to feel welcome and to assist them with their unique needs. Even if your college does not provide veteran-specific support, almost all institutions of higher learning provide mental health counseling to students at little or no charge.
Reach Out to Other Veterans
Regardless of the kind of mental health obstacles you are facing, it is very likely that other veterans are experiencing similar difficulties. You can better understand your own struggles and find ways to cope by reaching out to fellow veterans. A large percentage of veterans have recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan and are struggling to find hope for the future, as they frequently experience flashbacks and emotional triggers from their time overseas. A growing number of veterans are forming organizations such as The Lone Star Veterans Association in Houston, Texas. Non-profit groups, such as this one, support a community of veterans helping veterans by supporting one another through their feelings of desperation, despair and hopelessness. You can find the support you need by reaching out to other veterans who can share resources as well as their own personal stories of struggle and hope.
Tell Someone You’re Struggling
It is difficult to fully take advantage of the resources available to you if you suffer in silence. Telling someone you trust that you are struggling with adjusting to post-deployment life is a crucial step toward becoming mentally healthy. Whether you tell a fellow veteran, a family member, or a trained therapist, the simple act of getting your feelings off of your chest can be extremely helpful. Your circumstances will not change instantly, but you will no longer be carrying the burden of going it alone.
Call a Crisis Line
One of the most tragic consequences of the mental health crisis among the veteran population is that a growing number of veterans are taking their own lives. Brave men and women who have served our country deserve to get the help they need. The veterans’ crisis line is a resource that is available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Simply call 1-800-273-8255 and then press one. People who are knowledgeable about the struggles veterans face are available to help. You may also visit their website and participate in a confidential online chat room with other veterans who are going through a similar struggle.
Maintain a Balanced and Active Lifestyle
Taking care of your mental health can be a challenge, especially if you are not seeing progress as quickly as you would like. This is why it’s important to introduce things into your life that can bring immediate relief. Exercise, for example, is one of the most effective ways to ease the effects of depression almost immediately. The increased heart rate and endorphins that come from a good workout will do wonders for both your physical and mental health. Balance is another important factor when it comes to your mental health. Eat foods that give you energy, balance your work and social life, and remember to do things that you enjoy.
If you are a veteran suffering from a mental disorder such as PTSD or depression, you are not alone. By following these tips you can begin your journey toward mental health and wellness.