You don’t have to be in crisis to talk to a mental health professional. As a clinical mental health counselor, I often see veterans when life has spun out of control…the drinking has gotten too much, they’re about to lose their job, their family…their life. Metaphorically, if I were an emergency room doc, some of the men and women I see would be walking in with three fractures, bleeding from a thousand cuts. The national organization, Mental Health America, says it well: why do we wait for stage 4 mental health conditions to take action?
Before Stage 4 is an idea that takes the concept of taking care of our physical health at early warning signs and applies it to our mental health. This is from their website, and says it better than I can:
When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4—we begin with prevention. When people are in the first stage of those diseases and are beginning to show signs or symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms. We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease. So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?
So why would someone seek out a mental health professional, if they weren’t crazy? I hear the objections. I get it. “Hey, employers already think all veterans have PTSD, why play into the stereotype?” That might be perpetuating the stigma, not reducing it. But why wait until you’re in crisis before you do something about it? So here are three reasons to find a good mental health professional to talk to.
To Become A Better Version Of Yourself
You may be doing pretty well with life. The transition isn’t going too bad; you’ve got a job. Granted, it may not be as cool, or as satisfying, as when you were in the military, but what can you expect? At least it pays the bills, right? Or maybe you’re in school, and it’s going okay. It’s not what you thought it would be, maybe a little easier, maybe a little harder. Just because you’re doing okay, however, doesn’t mean you can’t be doing better. I’ve worked with veterans who were doing okay, but didn’t realize that there were steps they could take to improve. An okay life is not a great life, so why settle for a little when you can get a lot? Mental health professionals have the training, education, and experience to be able to help you get insight into how to make a good life better. You might go to a personal trainer to take your fitness to the next level, and athletes have coaches to help them develop. Why don’t we do the same for our mental health?
You Did It To Your Gear While You Were In The Military
Nearly every piece of equipment in the military had a preventive maintenance schedule. Maybe you didn’t always follow it, but when you didn’t and you needed something, it always broke. Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) is what we did for our vehicles, our weapons, our communication systems, and our gas masks, so why not do preventive maintenance on our way of thinking? Taking a look at our actions and behaviors, figure out what’s working, what’s not, and doing something about it? If, while we were in the military, we always worked on developing our strengths while minimizing our weaknesses, why do we avoid doing the same when it comes to our thought processes and personal interaction with others? Let’s kick the tires and change the oil, and catch stuff while it’s small. Before it becomes catastrophic.
You Saw And Did Things Outside The Normal Realm Of Human Existence
I’m not talking about combat, although that’s there, too. But the things we did when we were in the military aren’t things that people do in the normal course of their daily lives. I was talking to a group of veterans recently, and I asked them if they missed the gas chamber. For those of you reading this who aren’t veterans, part of basic military training is to be exposed to tear gas, or (as its known in the military) CS gas. We jumped out of perfectly good airplanes and jumped off of tall buildings with ropes tied around our waists. We walked for miles and miles with heavy weight on our backs and ended up where we started. Why? In order to develop the physical strength and endurance to be able to fight and win our nation’s wars. Years of doing that changes you, often in ways that you may not be aware of. It didn’t mean you were crazy then, and doesn’t mean you’re crazy now…but tryng to make sense of why you did it, and how it’s changed how you see the world, isn’t crazy either.
There’s probably more reasons than this, and I’d love to hear them. I might be writing a pretty big blank check for you to cash in with your local mental health counselor, but they’re professionals, they can handle it. Of course, going in and checking it out will take us overcoming some of the stereotypes and preconceived notions we have about therapy and counseling. It’s not all about getting meds thrown at you, or someone sitting cross-legged on the floor burning incense. There are mental health providers out there that “get it,” and you can find some here. You’ll never know if you don’t check it out.
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!