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Support For Veterans with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

The cost of freedom becomes increasingly more taxing on veterans as mental health and substance use disorders (SUD) develop more prevalently throughout the armed forces. Becoming familiar with the common signs and symptoms can help you or your loved ones recognize when and why to receive professional support. However minor or severe, neglecting these signs can cause permanent damage, or even death, for our beloved veterans.

Mental Health: PTSD

As one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders in veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stems from traumatic or mentally terrifying instances during active duty or otherwise. Usually beginning within three months to one year of the triggering event, victims may start to relive memories, thoughts, or even hallucinations which ultimately inhibit their everyday functions.

Loved ones of those suffering from PTSD may observe uncharacteristic depressive tendencies, mood swings, sudden emotional outbursts, or estrangement from victims. Being aware of these signs is the first step in supporting yourself, or others, who may be experiencing signs of manic behaviors. 

Most Common PTSD Signs

Mayo Clinic, one of the top hospitals and medical research facilities in the nation, describes the most common signs and symptoms of PTSD as the following characteristics:

  • Intrusive memories:
    • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
    • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
    • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
    • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance:
    • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
    • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood:
    • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
    • Hopelessness about the future
    • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
    • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions:
    • Being easily startled or frightened
    • Always being on guard for danger
    • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
    • Trouble sleeping

PTSD Treatment and Resources

The most researched and recommended therapy-based treatment options for veterans suffering from PTSD is trauma-focused psychotherapies. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regarding treatment, talk therapy and medications are frequent options to help individuals process traumatic experiences, typically lasting 8 - 16 sessions. The most successful methods include:

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE)
    Teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. It involves talking about your trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
    Teaches you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with your provider about your negative thoughts and doing short writing assignments.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
    Helps you process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).

If you are noticing thoughts of suicide, harmful actions, or recognize signs of PTSD in yourself or a loved one, veteran and civilian options are available 24/7 to discuss any negative feelings or symptoms for those affected. You are not alone. Refer to these hotlines and online resources for immediate help: 

  • Veterans Crisis Line:
    • “Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves.” 1-800-273-8255
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
    • “We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.” 1-800-273-8255
  • Jackson House Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers:
    • “While sometimes you know you have a problem, there are other instances where maybe you are still struggling to admit you have an addiction. We hope the following assessments provide you with some additional insight on whether or not it is time to reach out for help.” 888-255-9280

Mental Health: Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

According to a 2014 study of nearly 120,000 veterans treated within Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, all were diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Victims may exhibit manic behavior — both depressive and euphoric — or perceptions that seem out of touch with reality, including incoherent speech, hallucinations, or inhibited motivation in daily tasks. If you or your loved ones are suffering from similar symptoms, making the decision to seek help could save yours or their life.

Most Common Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Signs

As described from one of the nation’s top 3 most visited health sites, Medical News Today, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder exude similar yet ranging symptoms described as the following:

Schizophrenia

  • Delusions:
    • These are false beliefs, and most people with schizophrenia experience them.
    • People may think, for example, that they are famous or special in a certain way, that they are being harassed or stalked, or that something terrible is about to happen.
  • Hallucinations:
    • During a hallucination, people see, hear, or smell things that are not there. The most common type involves hearing voices.
  • Disorganized thinking and speech:
    • People may not make sense when communicating with others. They may give unrelated answers to questions, or their sentences may seem meaningless to the people around them.

Bipolar

  • Mania:
    • Anger or irritability
    • Difficulty sleeping or less need for sleep
    • Excessive energy and restlessness
    • High self-esteem
    • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
    • Increased engagement in pleasurable activities, such as sexual activity or drug use
    • Intense excitement
    • Racing thoughts
    • Reckless behavior, such as overspending
  • Depression:
    • Changes in appetite
    • Changes in sleep habits
    • Fatigue and low energy
    • A loss of interest in things once enjoyed
    • Low self-esteem
    • Physical aches and pains without an apparent cause
    • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Treatment and Resources

Medications and psychotherapy are the most common overlapping treatments from those suffering from either of these mental illnesses. Lifelong support from these methods have proven to help victims overcome triggering events and lifestyle changes to better adapt into everyday functionality. Medical News Today describes these specific treatments as the most used and successful:

  • Psychotherapy and counseling:
    • Recognize and take steps to manage key triggers, such as stress
    • Identify early symptoms of an episode and take steps to manage it
    • Work on factors that help maintain a stable mood for as long as possible
  • Drug treatment:

To better understand your own or a loved one’s symptoms, taking anonymous assessments like this online quiz from Jackson House Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers, can be an invaluable resource in taking the first step toward help.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Mental illnesses don’t always create manic behaviors in victims. Substances such as alcohol or drugs can become a toxic vice even for seemingly high functioning individuals. Self medicating in this way can lead to more serious dependencies and deficiencies causing life threatening consequences. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stated that more than 2 of 10 veterans with PTSD also have SUD, a staggering number considering the 19 million veterans alive today in the U.S.

More data regarding SUD in U.S. veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed approximately 1 in 10 vets treated at a VA facility have problems with alcohol or other illicit substances. Acknowledging and treating these disorders is commonly dealt with in facilities throughout the nation. Seeking teams of qualified specialists who diagnose and treat these illnesses will save your life, or the life of a veteran you may know.

Most Common SUD Signs

Recognizing signs and symptoms of SUD is observable through various substances used or altered moods exhibited from each victim. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Alcohol binging (typically 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men, 4 drinks or more within 2 hours for women)
  • Excessive tobacco/e-cigarette use
  • Opioid and prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs
  • Homelessness
  • Depression

SUD Treatment and Resources

Since 2013, the military has expanded access to treatment facilities and outpatient services to directly address addictions and SUD related issues. If access to a VA facility isn’t within reach, civilian institutes offer equally supportive and successful services. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has listed some of these resources for active military, veterans, and civilians to overcome their disorders:

Jackson House Addiction and Recovery Support

Over 1.1 million individuals alone were diagnosed with either anxiety, SUD, PTSD, depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder between 2010 - 2011 according to the American Journal of Public Health. Many services and facilities, like Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, specialize in a variety of treatments to help veterans and civilians combat these debilitating illnesses.

With the support of family, friends, and the specialists who treat addiction and mental health, life can continue even healthier and more positive than before. Pursuing help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign you or other victims are ready to live life to its fullest potential.

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