6 Ways the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helps Military Members
With today’s better understanding of mental health in the military and an increased willingness for open dialog, studies have revealed that nearly 1 in 4 active duty members have experienced some sort of mental health condition, including depression at a rate five times higher than in civilian populations, and Postraumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is 15 times higher.
A non-profit, grassroots organization has been working tirelessly for almost four decades to ensure that people across the U.S. have access to mental health resources and help when they need it, including the military family. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) started as a small group of families gathered around a kitchen table in 1979 and today has grown to an association of hundreds of local affiliates, state organizations, and volunteers in communities across the country.
Among its numerous areas of focus, the organization specializes in care and support for active duty and veteran personnel, and hosts numerous classes, support lines, and helpful information. Here are six of the numerous ways that NAMI is helping America’s heroes and their families.
- Providing an Overview of PTSD, Depression, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). These three conditions are perhaps the most commonly encountered with military members and veterans. PTSD results when someone sees or experiences a traumatic event, leaving him or her with long-lasting effects that can be ongoing or triggered by certain situations. Depression is more than just “sadness,” but is an oppressive condition that interferes with daily life and affects normal functioning. A TBI results from a significant blow to the head or body and can include physical symptoms as well as memory problems and mood swings. The NAMI website contains a mental health conditions section that discusses how to recognize the symptoms of these conditions in yourself or others.
- Explaining Confidentiality and Who to Tell. Knowing when and how to disclose a concern about a mental health condition can cause stress to a member of the military. There are several non-military counseling organizations focused on serving veterans available to help, including Military One Source (1-800-342-9647). Additionally, recent changes to U.S. military procedures have made it easier to discuss concerns with on-base health care personnel without fearing an impact to your career. According to NAMI, the Department of Defense (DOD) acknowledges that untreated mental health conditions pose a greater safety threat than mental health conditions for which someone is seeking treatment.
- Discussing the Impact of Disclosing. Another major concern for military personnel is how seeking treatment for a mental health condition could affect his or her military career. According to NAMI, the DOD follows the privacy guidelines set down by HIPAA and the Privacy Act, ensuring the privacy of your mental health records in most situations. If, however, your care provider discovers that your mental health condition may endanger yourself, others, or the mission, they are obligated to disclose this information to the chain of command. On-base providers are receiving more training in recognizing and treating signs of mental health conditions, hoping to remove the stigma of reaching out for help and reducing the number of military personnel suffering in silence.
- Teaching Warriors to Help Other Warriors. Veterans and active duty members can relate more to one another’s experiences and struggles better than perhaps anyone else. By keeping open lines of communications, being non-judgmental, and reminding your fellow veteran or soldier that mental health issues can affect anyone – from privates to generals – you can help remove some of the stigma associated with mental health issues. Working together, members of the U.S. military can help “restore the fighting force” by supporting each other, recognizing that mental injuries from war can in many ways be just as difficult to recover from as physical. You can get more advice on helping a fellow veteran or soldier at the confidential Military One call line ((1-800-342-9647).
- Assisting with the Transition to Civilian Life. Making the move from military life to civilian life can be surprisingly difficult. Some veterans find they miss the structure and reliability of military life and work; others are surprised by their interactions with civilians who don’t share an understanding of war, or the work ethic created by mission-critical military work. Additionally, residual effects of PTSD – caused by seeing or experiencing traumatic events in battle – can sporadically make it difficult to fully engage with family and friends in normal settings. Discussing these concerns and emotions can help a veteran work through them, and talking to others can help them feel not so alone in the journey. Many local NAMI affiliates offer support programs for returning vets.
- Offering the NAMI Homefront Program. NAMI Homefront is a free, 6-session educational program for families, caregivers and friends of military service members and vets with mental health conditions. Taught by trained family members of service members/veterans living with mental health conditions, the program offers skills in: managing crises, communicating effectively, identifying your local support services, understanding current treatments, developing the confidence and stamina to support the family member with compassion, and learning how to navigate the impact of mental health conditions on the whole family. You can find a Homefront class in your area, or request one from your local NAMI affiliate.
With these, and many other efforts, NAMI hopes to help U.S. military members and veterans begin to treat and heal from mental conditions, giving them a chance at fuller, happier lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the Veterans Crisis Line, available 24/7, by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.
Written by Megan Hammons