Just recently mental illness has been brought to light and has become easier to talk about. The amount of service members coming back from war with mental illnesses has brought a lot of attention to this epidemic that is flooding our country. But what do we call it? How do we identify these symptoms and sum them up to one complete diagnosis? Let’s call it PTSD.
Throughout my time in the military, my struggles have been labeled as acute anxiety disorder to major depression disorder. The first evaluation I had done by the VA was in 2007. I spoke to 2 psychologists that specialized in PTSD and was told my “event” did was not considered PTSD due to not being in direct combat. Their definition of PTSD was being “blown up” or “shot at”. Fast forward 7 years later where Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is added to the DSM-5 and is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “PTSD is a trauma-and-stressor related disorder, or exposure to a traumatic or stressful event.”
So instead of labeling my symptoms for what they were, they decided to jumble them all in one and call it PTSD. Doesn’t that seem like a quick fix to a gigantic problem? Why not treat individuals for what their symptoms actually are. I understand that the amount of patients being treated in the VA has skyrocketed since 2001. So many of these veterans that have served have spent more than half their careers in a foreign place, away from their families, away from normalcy. The new normalcy is war, and no longer the life they lived prior to joining the service.
When I returned from both of my deployments I felt this sense of living in a dream. The normal lives of everyday Americans was strange to me. I’m not sure how to describe this feeling, but everything felt “fake” I guess you could say that began my journey of resenting the average American for living their normal lives. How dare they right? But for our reality of returning home we do grow angry at how comfortable life is, and how abused it may seem when we return.
That is just one example of the many feelings we experience upon returning home. When I returned home I saw a shrink for maybe 10 minutes. He told me I may have feelings of anger or resentment. I may feel impulsive and disconnected. He told me once I get passed the “90 day mark” things will start to feel normal again. As I sit here writing this out, its become apparent to me, that what he said was a bunch of shit to pacify the hundreds of soldiers he had to see in the short amount of time that he was allotted. How can a doctor force feed me all these feelings and leave me for the birds in less than ten minutes. The sad part is, this was just a box that needed to be checked. Our mental health really didn’t matter at that time, our unit’s check list took priority.
As we all know, or should definitely know, our country is still at a time of war. All branches of the military are being deployed as we speak, and these individuals will be returning home, and a lot of them will be flushed right back into the fighting pipeline only a few short months after their return.
I have seen such a flux in “treatment” programs and medications to “ease” the symptoms, which ultimately could end your career, but has anyone really looked into prevention? I’m not talking about force feeding soldiers power point slides about checking on your buddy, or the signs and symptoms of suicide. I think more people take it seriously because we have felt the effects of suicide and know someone who has taken their life or we may have thought of taking ours at one time or another. But have we ever looked into taking care of our minds as we take care of our bodies? The military stresses its standards of fitness, but what are the standards for mental fitness?
Seven years ago, I was sitting in the recruiting office in Elko, Nevada. My boss was a civilian and had just retired after 30 years of service. We were talking about mental health and it’s affects on the readiness of our soldiers. I remember our conversation being mostly about how people didn’t talk about it, and it really wasn’t on the agenda of taking care of soldiers. No one talked about mental illness. It was asking for trouble, or worse a discharge.
I remember talking to him about how the stressors of war could be minimalized if we were to have a system in place where soldiers were checked on. He laughed and said, “What like a mom?”. I guess you could say that. I know that our first line leaders have the additional responsibility to keep check on their soldiers, but also worry about who’s breathing down their neck. And most of the time we forget that they their own personal issues too. Wouldn’t it be effective to have individuals specialized in treatments solely focused on what soldiers may experience during their time at war? And not a shrink on base that the soldier can reluctantly be forced to go to because he may be acting weird. I’m talking about a social worker or counselor that is available to units and has one on one time with individuals and talks them through their emotions of war during their time at war. That offers on site help, not 90 days upon returning help. That can identify individuals that may be at risk and help them sort through their issues so that they are mission ready, and not an unheard liability.
I remember him looking at me kind of clueless. He really didn’t know what to say.
But as I revisit that conversation, I wonder if it would work. I wonder if having a professional contracted on site with our service men and women would help them before, during, and after their deployments. I wonder if the hardship of coming home would be easier and more manageable. I wonder if our friends that may seem normal but are high risk for suicide would be identified, and a life would be spared.
There is a ton of education and knowledge from our ranks that have retired or left the military, and most of the individuals I met, like me, have this desire to help. Why not train and educate these individuals. We may leave the ranks, but our experiences and our love for our country and our brother and sisters in arms will never leave. We may not be able to go back into the fight, but we would be ready and willing to take some weight off those who may be carrying a heavier load than others.