Providing Mental Health Support for Veterans

Today is Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada. It is the day we pay tribute to the veterans in our lives and to the many who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Our veterans have been trained to take swift action to help their comrades: To look left, to look right and provide help. This means considering themselves last. This action becomes hardwired in their reflexes, long after their service has ended. The key that is missing is the instinct, or the implicit permission, to take care of themselves.

Veterans are at a significantly higher risk—some stats state 57%—of suicide than those who haven’t served. Thankfully, there is good news: The 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report shows improving trends—343 fewer Veterans died from suicide in 2020 than in 2019, and 2020 had the lowest number of suicides since 2006. However, there is still much work to be done.

While there are many resources available to veterans, there is a stigma and an established culture for many that prevent them from seeking the care they need. Many might suffer feelings of guilt for having escaped major physical injury or even just surviving. They may see other veterans who are amputees or have other visible injuries and feel that their mental health struggles aren’t “serious enough” to seek help for.

One group, the Healing Warriors Program, based in Denver, Colorado focuses its efforts on nonnarcotic solutions for pain, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep. Its work centers on disrupting thoughts or behaviors that can lead to spiraling thoughts. In the case of sleep services, treatments including guided imagery, acupuncture or craniosacral therapy can help the veteran find rest. “It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do,” commented Healing Warrior’s Ana Yellen.

Other tools provided include headsets preloaded with programming for veterans to listen to. While there are many excellent apps available to help with mental health, many veterans are reluctant to download them. The headsets remove a barrier.

Some employee assistance programs (EAPs) have a special helpline for veterans who reach out, recognizing that the issues they are dealing with can be unique. According to the International Foundation’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits: 2021 Survey Results, 38% of U.S. respondents include veterans’ assistance in their EAPs.

As you work with your own participants to help break down the stigma surrounding seeking mental health care, realize you likely have veterans and active military service families in your population who might need a unique approach. Work with your EAP and mental health providers for ideas. Additional resources can be found at MentalHealth.gov.

Stacy Van Alstyne
Communications Director at the International Foundation

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