The Veteran Population
The veteran population is one of the most at-risk for several types of mental illness, many of which go untreated. The various wars our country has been involved with over the past half-century have left many veterans mentally scarred, and understandably. In Vietnam veterans, mental health treatment may be more stigmatized, causing many veterans who suffer from mental disorders to actively avoid seeking help. Convincing the veteran in your life to receive treatment can be tricky but should be of the utmost importance.
Untreated veterans struggling with mental health disorders tend to fall into unhealthy habits such as substance abuse (either drugs or alcohol or both), often leading to addiction or suicide. To prevent this, it is important to know the signs of common mental health problems in veterans.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The most common mental health concern among veterans is PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, insomnia, depression, and self-isolation. Certain sights, smells, or sounds will trigger episodes, causing the sufferer to react with fear or possibly violence.
Without treatment, these flashbacks may become worse with time, increasing the likelihood for self-medication, addiction, and suicide. Common treatments may include talk therapy, medication, or pet therapy and support with PTSD service dogs.
Depression is another common mental illness found in the veteran population. Though it can go hand in hand with PTSD, it is possible for a veteran to experience depression without PTSD. Symptoms vary widely, ranging from sadness and hopelessness to an inability to enjoy activities once found pleasurable, and even suicidal thoughts.
Though depression can become very severe, it is also easier to treat than some other forms of mental illness. Treatments for depression may include talk therapy, medication, and exercise.
Gulf War veterans in particular experience higher rates of anxiety than other military populations. Though anxiety is often less serious than other disorders, severe anxiety can cause self-isolation, depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse.
Common symptoms of anxiety are irrational or extended fear and anxiety responses to daily occurrences. For example, talking on the phone might lead to shortness of breath, shaking, or inability to communicate effectively. Treatments are similar to depression; talk therapy, medication, exercise, and cultivation of healthy coping mechanisms./
Sleep disorders often come along with other conditions such as PTSD or depression. Sleep disorders can mean either excessive sleeping or difficulty sleeping. Improper sleeping habits can exacerbate any other health concerns experienced by the veteran, making it a potentially harmful condition.
Symptoms are irregular sleep patterns, inability to fall asleep, or sleeping for abnormally long periods. Treatments often involve sleep medications and supplements along with the recommendation of a nightly routine.
Hypersensitivity is usually found alongside anxiety and is defined as being overly sensitive to stimuli. This oversensitivity also leads to being easily startled. Though the hypersensitivity itself is not necessarily a pressing concern, it can lead to self-isolation in an attempt to avoid alarming stimuli.
Isolation leaves the veteran susceptible to a number of other mental health problems while also increasing the risk for self-medication. Symptoms may be difficult to notice at first but will worsen with time. If left untreated, you may notice anxiety levels increasing with certain stimuli or even panic attacks as a result of these stimuli. Treatments will likely target the cause of hypersensitivity rather than the hypersensitivity itself.
Unfortunately, many veterans will suffer from some form of mental illness. It is important that these veterans receive treatment to prevent self-medication and addiction. Without a diagnosis and a treatment plan, many vets will turn to substance abuse just to feel normal again, even if only for a few hours. However, substance abuse actually aggravates the symptoms of mental illness which, in turn, leads the veteran to self-medicate again. The only way to disrupt this vicious cycle is to convince the individual to seek professional treatment.
Guest Blogger Bio: Julia Merrill is a retired board-certified nurse practitioner. Over the course of her 30-year career, she strove to bridge the communication gap between those seeking the best medical care and those working to provide it. She created BefriendYourDoc.org with the goal of sharing tips and insights into finding the right medical care, dealing with insurance companies, and ways for everyone to better maintain their own health and wellness.
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