Military and Mental Health

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May is Mental Health Month and it’s here again. This time let’s consider evolving issues in mental health counseling for Veterans and Military Personnel — beyond PTSD.

PTSD is a household term now. We may look at a Veteran and assume she or he suffers from this debilitating psychological pain. In fact, the majority of Veterans do not present Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many non-military people who have endured trauma from other causes also deal with PTSD. Those who suffer from the condition may respond to different kinds of treatment from medication to specialized therapy. The kinds therapy now used include drugs – both prescription and non-prescription varieties. Other treatments might require story-telling (Cognitive Exposure) to desensitize the debilitating strength of trauma memore; or Rational Emotive Therapy which focuses on managing emotions through monitoring thoughts; and EMDR, in which the therapist directs the patient in exercises of rapid eye movement to relieve the oppression of the underlying memories.

MORAL INJURY is an area of mental health for Veterans whereby the Vet faces strong emotions such as guilt, doubt, shame and other uncomfortable feelings. These emotions usually surround activities and choices the person has had to make that are a disconnect with his/her faith formation, conscience, moral upbringing. Ideas of good and evil, of God and supernatural realms are in turmoil. Usually it is helpful if the therapist is trained in spiritual and pastoral aspects of counseling to help the person come to a resolution and hopefully be liberated. New core meanings may emerge from this process.

WOMEN in the military have many more subtle issues than blatant discrimination, harassment or sexual assault. Those are serious enough and quite common because of the male orientation of military history wherein females are in the minority. In these cases, some therapy will work with restorative justice processes; some will work with facilitating a ritual expression in a ceremony of cleansing, forgiveness, release of emotional discomfort. Much is coming to the front lines of knowledge as we learn that women Vets have been resorting to suicide at alarming rates which are approaching the frequency of their male counterparts.

SUICIDE is indeed a very live issue among military whether actively serving or whether Veterans. The newest data report that Vets (including active military) are taking their lives at the rate of 22 a day. This represents a large number. Programs for suicide intervention may be very successful if group work or battle buddies can be brought into play. The bonds forged during military service are so very strong that one method of suicide is called “ACE,” i.e., a buddy Asks the question about suicidal intent/level, shows Care by remaining present and engaged with the suicidally inclined soldier, and then Escorts him/her to professional or other appropriate help.The Question-Persuade-Refer or “QPR for Vets” method recognizes assistance as it is based on “warrior psychology” as understood by Dr. Paul Quinette – himself a Veteran who later becamse a clinical psychologist and dedicates his practice to suicide prevention.

Maybe these four big areas give you a glimpse of the types of issues being addressed today by mental health practices. Memorial Day (5/29) and D-Day (6/06) are coming closer on the 2017 calendar. Let’s let those days bring us closer to understanding some of the depth of sacrifice and its impact on the people who are willing to take up service on the behalf of the nation and fellow citizens.

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