Mental Health, the Military, and My Father

“Like father, like son.”

– Unknown

This is going to be more than a post of fun facts and bullet points. For me, anyway. Like millions of others with family members in the military, this has, is, and will always hit home in its own way.

My father was in the United States Army for 31 years before retiring in his early 50s a few years ago. He was that type. He could have quit after four years under the rules and laws I know. But he dedicated another 27 years of service out of the “somebody’s gotta do it” ideology. Or so I hope. The alternative would be far more sinister.

From my high school career on, he was mostly gone overseas somewhere. He could never say where. It turns out, however, a lot these deployments were voluntary. But from the age of 13 to 32, the man I now see before me has changed dramatically. He’s changed into a man that a broken system doesn’t want me to know has broken him. He’s there, yes, but there’s something missing, too.

The war (which one?) has taken its toll, yes, but have we not dropped the ball on making sure veterans receive the frontline psychiatric help they deserve after being on the front lines?

These are all questions that have been on the table for some time now. Nothing new, but far from right.

My father is an alcoholic, which makes me ever more thankful I do not drink because he’s that type of alcoholic. With all the candor and then some. But my dad wasn’t always like that. No, he was the reasonable one in our family. For a while.

Like I’ve mentioned, it comes with the territory. I know this. But the interruption or delay, if you will, my father has undergone is scary and, to an extent, was avoidable.

Who’s to blame, though? Those feeding the egos, or the ones needing their ego fed? It’s all relative, I guess. These all were questions asked before mental health became a part of the paradigm.

Nearly 25% of active-duty members showed signs of a mental health condition, according to the 2014 study by JAMA Psychiatry.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are three primary mental health concerns that you may encounter serving in the military.

Postraumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, disasters or sexual assault can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, being jumpy and alcohol and drug abuse. When these troubles don’t go away, it could be PTSD. The 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study found the rate of PTSD to be 15 times higher than civilians.

Depression. More than just experiencing sadness, depression doesn’t mean you are weak, nor is it something that you can simply “just get over.” Depression interferes with daily life and normal functioning and may require treatment. The 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study found the rate of depression to be five times higher than civilians.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A traumatic brain injury is usually the result of significant blow to the head or body. Symptoms can include headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems and mood

Adjustment disorder is another common disorder members of the military transitioning back to civilian life experience. This is where PTSD and depression play a high role.

Soldiers exiting the military are also made to feel weak by needing or accepting help for a psychiatric concern that could’ve been prevented or at least prevented from getting worse.

This is another issue my father personally faces. This, along with the less-than-great medical services provided by the VA, is another reason my father, who desperately needs medical care, will not seek it. One, it is for the weak. And two, he still doesn’t have full access to the care he needs.

Below I have included 11 facts about soldiers and mental/psychological health:

  1. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common mental health problems faced by returning troops.

The most common symptoms of PTSD include difficulty concentrating, lack of interest/apathy, feelings of detachment, loss of appetite, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and sleep disturbances (lack of sleep, oversleeping.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed after several weeks of continued symptoms.

About 11% to 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom) have been diagnosed with PTSD.

30% of soldiers develop mental problems within 3 to 4 months of being home.

55% of women and 38% of men report being victim to sexual harassment while serving in the military.

Because there are more men than women in the military, more than half of all veterans experiencing military sexual trauma are men.

An estimated 20% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans turn to heavy drinking or drugs once they return to the US.

Between 10 and 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Possible consequences of this internal injury include anger, suicidal thoughts, and changes in personality.

In 2010, an average of 22 veterans committed suicide every day. The group with the highest number of suicides was men ages 50 to 59.

Some groups of people, including African Americans and Hispanics, may be more likely than whites to develop PTSD.

I said this wouldn’t be a post of stats and bullet points, but they’re necessary. I can only speak of my father so much without violating his personal liberties, although he knows nothing about this blog and probably wouldn’t approve of it, anyway.

War will change any person, no doubt, but it doesn’t mean we leave our soldiers on their own, especially after the services they do provide for our country. The transition back to “normal” life after being in combat can be tremendously difficult. It’s important for people to understand that for a soldier the personal warfare, the inner battlefront, never ends. It will always be there. We must be diligent in the care and understanding of our soldiers when it comes to mental health.

Despite the expression and the idea behind it, I think very little is fair when it comes to love or war.

4 thoughts on “Mental Health, the Military, and My Father

  1. It makes me sad that Veterans are not treated better after military life. I know so many who suffer from addiction and mental health issues and they say it is a joke trying to get good treatment from a VA hospital. I am glad that you have highlighted this very important topic. Thank you for sharing, Josh!

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