According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, returning veterans have a 21% higher risk of suicide compared to civilians. This increased risk of suicide and self-harm are due to a variety of factors, some of which include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and other combat related stressors.
If you, or a loved one, are returning to civilian life after time spent serving in the military, focusing on positive mental health habits is an imperative part of your health care plan. Here are just a few habits to consider as you begin your life back home.
See a Mental Health Professional
Whether you saw combat, or not, it is important to set up a consistent schedule of appointments with a mental health professional that you trust. Speak with your Veterans Affairs caseworker to find a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist near you. It is okay to “shop around” a bit to find a professional that you feel comfortable with and trust. Talking with a mental health professional can decrease feelings of social isolation or depression. They can also walk you through healthy coping skills and decision making.
Don’t Turn to Alcohol or Drugs
Substance abuse is common among returning veterans, as alcohol and drugs make it easier to escape (albeit temporary) from unpleasant thoughts and feelings or symptoms of PTSD. It can be difficult, but try and resist the urge to turn to alcohol or drugs. Instead try to find escape in healthier habits such as exercise.
Find a Physical Outlet
Speaking of exercise, physical activity can be a great way to cope with mental health stressors brought on by combat or by returning to civilian life. Find something that you enjoy doing, and find a group of people that you enjoy doing it with. Some veterans find it therapeutic to work out with other veterans in team environments such as CrossFit or Spartan racing, they share teamwork parallels that are a value in the military.
Ask for Help
Asking for help may be the most difficult habit but it is also the most important. Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with asking for help when it comes to mental health issues. Some people might consider searching for a support group or counselor as a sign of weakness. However, it takes a very strong person to admit when they need help.
You have sacrificed your life for this country and its citizens – get the help you have earned and deserve. Take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal. Veterans support groups, counseling, prescription medication, and wellness coaches are just a few ways that you can start to feel better.
If you are ready to look for help for your mental health, visit our Resources page to find professionals near you. Thank you for your service – let us help you stay healthy.