What Mental Health Issues Affect Veterans Most?

What Mental Health Issues Affect Veterans Most?

They can start while you're serving or after you've become a civilian.

Military life can be mentally and emotionally challenging at times. Whether you're in training, deployed or a Veteran, you may be dealing with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress or other mental health issues stemming from your service. These problems may make everyday function difficult, and if left untreated, could threaten your life.

What's more, for new Veterans, mental health issues can create a vicious circle; the stress of becoming a civilian can make your mental health worse, and at the same time, worsening mental health can impact your ability to reacclimate.

But awareness can help. Here's what you should know about the biggest mental health issues affecting Veterans.

Feeling down or sad occasionally is normal, especially during periods of transition. But these feelings usually pass within a few days. If they linger, and particularly if they’re interfering with daily life and normal functioning, you may be dealing with depression.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), about one-third of Veterans who visit primary care clinics show signs of the condition. What's more, it's estimated that depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects about 18.5 percent of Servicemembers coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan. Symptoms can include persistent sadness, loss of pleasure, changes in appetite and weight, difficulty concentrating and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes that depression is the mental health issue most frequently linked to suicide.

Linked to traumatic experiences such as military combat, physical assaults or even natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, PTSD goes beyond in-the-moment stress. If you have this condition, you often relive the event, through flashbacks and nightmares. They may also experience a numbing of emotions, an inability to sleep, anger issues and problems with relationships, among other symptoms. Self-destructive conduct and rash, thoughtless actions have also been linked to PTSD.

It's thought that about 7 or 8 percent of Americans experience the disorder, but for Veterans, it's significantly higher—up to 30 percent in Vietnam Veterans. As with depression, seeking care can go a long way toward minimizing your symptoms. The VA offers treatment choices like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, among others.

There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders, from social anxiety to specific phobias, and it's believed that nearly one-third of adults will develop one at some point. For Veterans, anxiety is especially prevalent; reports of the disorder rose among Servicemembers by 327 percent from 2000 to 2012.

Much like depression, anxiety becomes problematic when it begins disturbing your day-to-day life, or keeps you from doing things that might improve your health—such as seeking more social connections. But there are effective treatments, such as medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.

Having one of these conditions, or possibly all three, can put you at higher risk for substance abuse and suicide, and it's estimated that Veterans comprise around 18 percent of those who die by suicide each year. The risk can be increased by mental health issues that were present before military service, which may be exacerbated during service. Also raising the odds: Veteran—especially those who recently transitioned to civilians—often have problems with personal relationships.

If you’ve been experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and press 1 to be routed. This toll-free service is available 24/7 for suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Getting help
Fortunately, there are ways to address mental health issues, and many treatment and programs are designed specifically for Veterans. To get started, speak to your doctor for guidance, or contact the VA for help connecting to local resources, including therapists and substance abuse programs.

And, for the next few weeks, come back to Sharecare. We'll be Veterans' go-to resource for tackling the mental and physical issues affecting everyday life, including common emotional challenges and ways to find and access treatment. Keep it here for more.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

Feeling Alone? Here's Why Veterans Need to Connect
Feeling Alone? Here's Why Veterans Need to Connect
In the military, you were used to a steady routine and friendships with other Servicemembers. At home as a Veteran, it can feel disorienting to lose t...
Read More
Why is it important to figure out why I feel sad?
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhDDr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD
If you are feeling sad, it's important to acknowledge those symptoms and see a licensed mental healt...
More Answers
4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely
4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely4 Simple Ways to Avoid Feeling Lonely
Loneliness and isolation can have serious health effects—but being proactive goes a long way.
Start Slideshow
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Toxic Worrying?
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Toxic Worrying?