When we have a federal holiday, many of us focus on the opportunity to enjoy an extended weekend and our focus is on getting together with our loved ones or using our spare time to our advantage. It’s easy to focus on the things we don’t get to do often and lose sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
This Memorial Day, I ask that you remember not only the fallen soldiers but also their families and the veterans among us today who suffer with the painful memories of war and their fallen brothers and sisters.
Statistics show an estimated 25% of people who served in the U.S. military have symptoms of at least one mental health condition, with more than 10% qualifying for a diagnosis of two or more mental illnesses frequently acquired while serving their country. Our military faces many challenges that we, as average citizens, cannot fathom such as; Extended separation from their loved ones, facing the harsh realities of combat, and head trauma as well as being obligated to press on in war under severe emotional stress.
According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research many veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Major depression is characterized by encompassing periods of low moods, loss of interest in activities that were once desirable, continuing fatigue, and other characteristics that minimize the victim’s quality of life, ability to work and even his or her ability to function in basic day to day activities. Post-traumatic stress disorder develops as a result of exposure to traumatic events such as war and is identified by disturbing or altered thoughts and feelings, mental or physical distress triggered by trauma related cues, increased fight or flight responses, and recurring nightmares for extended periods of time. Both illnesses are leading causes in substance abuse and suicide cases nationwide.
What can you do to help those who suffer as a result of war while honoring our fallen heroes this memorial day?
Know how to treat someone who is suffering. Offer unconditional love and support while avoiding trying to fix their problems on your own. Never advise a victim to “snap out of it” or “move on from the past” in these situations. Be realistic in knowing that these things require patience and understanding and healing takes a very long time for some. Definitely encourage professional help whenever possible, but do so gently without making a victim feel insulted, judged, or unwanted. Always express understanding and encouragement as well as acknowledgement that their issues are as real as any other illnesses.
Promote and support treatment whenever possible. Help them to understand that treatment isn’t modifying their personality but can greatly help relieve symptoms. Offer help with locating a therapist or health care provider, preparing for their appointments, transportation when needed, and tracking symptoms. Use mild reminders for both medication and motivation when you see they are not having success on their own.
Understand the crisis our nation is facing regarding military mental health. According to Dr. Joel Young numerous studies have documented the fact that our service members struggle to access mental health treatment. Dr. Young shares some of the disturbing challenges our military faces when in need of treatment such as professional consequences, inaccessible treatment and the lack of military mental health screenings in his informative article in Psychology Today.
Pursue all the resources available to help you help someone you love who is suffering mental illness as a result of time served. Mental Health America offers a comprehensive list of resources you can reach out to on their website (click here for a direct link).
If you believe your loved one is at an immediate risk for suicide, do NOT leave the person alone. In the U.S., dial 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
I took this photo (on the left) when I visited Washington D.C. on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. I will never forget that moment. I remember just seeing the number of names on this wall representing our brothers and sisters lost in the Vietnam war was a very overwhelming experience for me. The magnitude of the how many thousands upon thousands of names was unreal and I already felt a lump welling in my throat even before I was able to absorb the people there paying homage. They were finding names and falling to their knees in tears. They were family, friends and military family visiting the names of friends they were in battle with. It was a phenomenal experience for me I will never forget. I treasure this photo.
I'd like to take this opportunity to honor our fallen heroes this holiday and every day as well as all who have served in the U.S. Military. Thank you for your service to our country. I wish everyone a safe and joyous holiday weekend as you respect and remember our courageous veterans.