5 Ways You Can Help Support the Mental Health of a Veteran in Your Life

Military and Veterans, SMVF

Veterans face unique mental health challenges in life that civilians do not, such as transitioning from military to civilian life, and psychological distress caused by wartime experiences.

Research indicates that fewer than 50 percent of veterans returning from duty receive any mental health treatment, and in recent years, approximately 17 veterans die by suicide every day.

Those that realize that they need mental health treatment often avoid doing so because of barriers such as stigmas, shame, fear, pride, lack of understanding, and lack of resources. Family and close friends typically are the first ones that notice the mental health challenges that veterans experience, and they often struggle with finding ways to provide support.

If you or someone close to you are considering or planning suicide, please call 988 immediately. 

5 Ways to Help Support the Mental Health of a Veteran in Your Life

Treatment from a provider is the best step in supporting the mental health of a veteran, but there are other things that you can personally do to help.

1. Listen and Respect

The first way you can help support the mental health of a veteran in your life is through kindness, encouragement, and respect. Listen to what the veteran has to say and maintain a non-judgmental attitude. Give the veteran your full attention. Avoid giving unsolicited advice or opinions. Give the veteran space and time to think and to deal with their challenges without applying pressure.

2. Learn about the Common Transitioning Challenges

Whether it is a short assignment in the military, or a long career, “It can be a tough transition (to civilian life) in those first weeks and months – and even years – after finishing service,” says Ingrid Burns, director of personal finance and military advice at USAA.

You can help support your loved one’s mental health and common transition challenges by learning more about the struggles that they face: preparing for the workforce/finding a job, family and social environment, adjusting to new routine and structure, and finding a support system.

Learn more: The Challenges of Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

3. Learn about Depression

Many people believe that depression is something that will go away just by toughing it out. Individuals who serve in the military, or those that are veterans, are especially subject to this ‘toughing it out’ idea because their expectations are ingrained to never allow their mental health to interfere with their assignments in life. Depression and suicide risk factors are major in the military and in veterans, from a baseline of 11.4% to a rate of 15% after deployment.

You can help support the mental health of a veteran in your life by learning and recognizing the symptoms of depression.

Some of the most common signs of depression are:

  • Low mood, sadness, or hopelessness
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Inability to concentrate, focus, or make decisions
  • Anger, irritability, and feelings of frustration
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Unexplained pain or body tension, such as headaches or back pain
  • Sleep disturbances, either insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Reduced or increased appetite, resulting in weight gain or loss
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, unable to shake past difficulties or experiences
  • Suicide ideation or attempts to self-harm

Learn more about additional symptoms of mental distress, as well as how depression can look different from person to person: Depression is More Than a Weakness.

4. Learn about PTSD

The traumatic incidents that veterans experience, such as military combat and other dangerous events, can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Western Tidewater Community Services Board explains the main symptom types and dangers of untreated PTSD:

“PTSD is a serious mental condition that can affect anyone, and it presents with life-altering symptoms. The four main groups of PTSD symptoms are intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors, negative changes in thoughts or mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.”

Traumatic stress affects the brain. Preclinical and clinical studies report “alterations in memory function following traumatic stress, as well as changes in a circuit of brain areas…that mediate alternations in memory.” In synopsis, untreated PTSD can cause trauma and injury to the brain.

Learn more about who can develop PTSD and the most common risk factors: PTSD is Not Just for Veterans.

5. Learn about Mental Health Treatment Options and Support

Sometimes, the hard part of caring and helping is knowing what you should say. Coaching into Care is a free service for families and friends of veterans. 10-to-30-minute calls are offered with licensed psychologists and social workers to obtain guidance for starting conversations with the veteran in your life about their mental health or substance abuse, and for motivating them to seek help. Call 888-823-7458.

Here are some Veteran Support Resources that can help you and your family learn about and find mental health treatment options and support:

Service Members, Veterans, and Family Support

We are here to help. There is no shame or weakness in taking care of yourself. If you need assistance with behavioral health in the Region Five area, also known as coastal, southeastern Virginia, contact a local Community Service Board (CSB). Each board offers family, veteran, and crisis services. If you reside in the state of Virginia, find and reach out to your local CSB by clicking here.

If you have or know of services and supports that may help us to help a Veteran or their family, please let us know, and we will get them steered in the right direction for help. Our staff will have flyers with our contact info on them, and we will seek out those in need.

Click here to download and share information with a veteran in need.

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