How much do you really know about veteran mental health? Are you aware that it goes beyond just the common misconceptions that a majority of veterans struggle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury? Over the past year, I’ve had many discussions with veterans, their family members, and those who serve veterans about this topic. One of the first questions I ask: what is the single biggest challenge that veterans face when it comes to mental health? While the answers vary, the majority of people consider PTSD, suicide, and military transition the largest problem that veterans face.
They’re not too far off base. The more combat veterans there are, the more likely those veterans have experienced a traumatic event. There is a greater chance of PTSD. And many in the veteran community are aware that suicide is an epidemic.
There are certainly struggles in military transition. In my experience, however, not all veterans I work with as a mental health professional are struggling with PTSD, and certainly not PTSD alone. And suicide is a symptom of an underlying problem, not a problem to be solved itself. It’s as if people said, “we must stop people from having a runny nose” or “we have to stop the headache problem.” I’m not minimizing the impact of suicide by trying to make it a trivial symptom, but it is an indicated of a deeper unresolved issue. And struggles in military transition are the result of unresolved problems not the problem itself.
I’ve written on the topic of looking beyond PTSD and TBI before. That series of posts was the genesis of this upcoming project. As I worked with veterans, I noticed that there were some things that they were experiencing that go beyond just PTSD and TBI. These included a lack of purpose and meaning, emotional dysregulation due to learned helplessness, moral injury, and frustration due to an inability to meet their needs after leaving the military. After writing this series of articles, and having discussions about them, I saw a greater need to explain more.
In March of 2017, I was invited to present the keynote address for the Military and Government Counseling Association. I talked about ethics and cultural competence when working with veterans. Essentially, the point was that, if a mental health professional is going to work with a veteran, they need to understand all aspects of the veteran’s mental health needs, not just PTSD and TBI. Similarly, if a veteran was going to address their concerns, they needed to know more about what they are experiencing.
Another point was that the mental health profession is uniquely qualified to help veterans across all of these concerns; yes, we have procedures and protocols to help treat and resolve PTSD. We have interventions to diagnose and support recovery from TBI. We also, however, have theories and interventions that address all of these concerns. If mental health professionals are not looking for them, we are going to use the wrong tool for the job.
Here is an overview of the conceptual framework that the series will cover. Each of the areas that are covered include the indicator of the problem, the problem itself, and the therapeutic intervention or theory that can help alleviate that problem. The internal and external pressures that keep a veteran from addressing these problems are also identified.
Veteran Mental Health Bootcamp
In order to provide a deeper understanding of these concepts, I have been putting together a series of podcasts. This series will be released over the next two weeks, addressing each of these topics, and a little bit more. The series will be called Veteran Mental Health Bootcamp: Advanced Training for Your Brain. I have been having conversations with veterans and mental health professionals across the nation about each of these topics, and will be sharing these conversations with you.
Advanced Training For Your Brain
Here are the topics and guests you can look forward to:
- Episode 25 (Show Notes Here): An introductory episode, sharing the potential impact of military service on veteran mental health, the conceptualization of all aspects of veteran mental health, and an introduction to the guests
- Episode 27 (Show Notes Here): External barriers that keep veterans from seeking support with Erin Fowler of the UCCS Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic
- Episode 28 (Show Notes Here): PTSD with Dr. Marisa Brandt and Dr. MaryCatherine McDonald, co-authors of the article, From Shell-Shock to PTSD, a Century of Invisible War Trauma
- Episode 29 (Show Notes Here): Traumatic Brain Injury with Dr. Blair Cano, an navy veteran and clinical neuropsychologist
- Episode 30 (Show Notes Here): Substance Abuse with Dr. Steven Kidd from the Veterans Affairs Substance Abuse Treatment Program
- Episode 31 (Show Notes Here): Emotional Dysregulation with Dr. Katy Barrs from the Sturm Center, an outpatient military-specific mental health counseling agency
- Episode 32 (Show Notes Here): Purpose and Meaning with Dr. Aaron James Smith, a Marine veteran and professor of counselor education at Western Washington University
- Episode 33 (Show Notes Here): Moral Injury with Dr. Joseph Currier, a leading national expert in the assessment of Moral Injury
- Episode 34 (Show Notes Here): Needs Fulfillment with Eddie Lazzari, an Army veteran and co-host of the Change Your POV Podcast Network
- Episode 35 (Show Notes Here): Family Systems with Joshua Kreimeyer, an Army veteran and professor of counselor education with Regis University
- Episode 36 (Show Notes Here): Veterans and medications with Dr. Charles Weber, an Army veteran and board certified psychiatrist, CEO of the Family Care Center and President of the Board of the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency
- Episode 37 (Show Notes Here): Finally, the conclusion show with Bennett Tanton, co-founder of the Change Your POV Podcast Network, talking about the series overall and where we should go from here:
When, Why and How
So why now? As we approach the end of the year, many will be making new years resolutions. Wanting to make a change. I’m not so naive as to think that many veterans will be making a new years resolution to seek mental health counseling, but why not, right? Regardless, it is a time of reflection and understanding. It is also a time in which may involve you traveling a lot, maybe a lot of down time. I’m not going to sugar coat it: there will be over twelve hours of conversations coming over the next two weeks. If you’re driving from Baltimore to Atlanta, or Denver to Chicago, though, you have a lot of time to pass. This could be a way to get some good info that could probably help save a life.
Each of the episodes will be released daily from 18 December to 30 December. You can listen to them as they’re released, or wait until they’re all released and binge on the entire series. Here’s how to make sure that you don’t miss an episode:
I look forward to sharing this information with you. I hope that this supports recovery and wellness in our service member’s post-military lives.
The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!