How common are mental illnesses in veterans?

The stress encountered by veterans in military service, whether serving at home or deployed abroad, can play a role in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has been a significant increase in military suicides recently, thought to be largely due to undiagnosed mental illness (depression and bipolar disorder) in that population. One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has been diagnosed with PTSD. An estimated 30% of Vietnam veterans have PTSD. Mental disorders are a leading cause of hospitalizations for active-duty forces.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Debilitating mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior are becoming more rampant among our soldiers and veterans.

A recently released study on veteran suicidality has also received wide news coverage. The Veterans Affairs study notes that, on average, 22 vets commit suicide every day – a higher number than reported  in previous years.

According to the RAND Invisible Wounds of War Study, approximately 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since October 2001. In a study of 1,965 previously deployed individuals, as many as 14% of those soldiers returned with symptoms of PTSD, and 14% returned with symptoms of depression, according to a 2008 RAND testimony. In addition, 19% reported a probable traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment. Only half of those veterans reporting a TBI actually sought help from a physician or mental health provider.

The rates of suicides are especially prominent among Vietnam vets and female vets. Half of the deaths were caused by an intentional drug overdose or poisoning.

If you are concerned about a family member who is a veteran or has returned from military service, Bob Livingstone, psychotherapist and Sharecare contributor, notes that “there are verbal hints that could indicate suicidal thoughts or plans. These include phrases such as ‘I want you to know something in case something happens to me’ or ‘I won’t trouble you anymore.’” Usually those who are suicidal may start throwing away important possessions or “expresses bizarre or unsettling thoughts on occasion.”
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.