Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, and it’s especially vital for senior veterans who have been on the front lines, seeing and experiencing events that can lead to serious psychological distress. As they age, the importance of mental health support becomes even more significant.
Understanding Veterans’ Mental Health
There’s no question that veterans have unique life experiences that can impact their mental well-being. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness, and the rates are even higher among veterans – more than 1.7 million received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in 2018.
For senior veterans, these numbers underscore the importance of mental health support. The department aims to provide coordinated care for the whole person, not just treat the person’s mental illness. VA promotes the idea that having a healthy body, satisfying work, and supportive family and friends are integral to mental health.
Types of Mental Health Issues in Veterans
1. Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety is a typical biological reaction to a stressful event. However, for some people, their anxiety does not dissipate and may even intensify over time. In persistent cases, anxiety disorders such as PTSD, panic disorders, and phobias may develop.
2. Depression: Depression is one of the most common and costly mental disorders. Veterans, especially those who served in combat, may struggle with depression due to the stress and trauma they’ve experienced.
3. PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder often linked with combat. It also occurs after other types of trauma like sexual or physical abuse or assault, terrorist attacks, serious accidents, and natural disasters.
4. Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder: Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe psychiatric disorder affecting approximately 120,000 Veterans receiving VA health care. Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes people to swing between periods of elation and high energy levels to depression and feeling hopeless.
5. Stress: Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. It is a highly subjective phenomenon, experienced differently by every individual.
6. Substance Use Disorders: Substance use disorders are common among veterans. The misuse of alcohol and drugs can lead to a variety of health problems and can often exacerbate mental health issues.
7. Suicide: Suicide prevention is a critical aspect of mental health support for veterans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States. In 2014, about 18 percent of those who died by suicide were Veterans.
Resources And Programs For Mental Health Support For Senior Veterans
1. VA Mental Health Services: VA offers a wide range of mental health services to Veterans. Mental health services are available in VA’s mental health specialty clinics, primary care clinics, nursing homes, and residential care facilities.
2. National Center for PTSD: Created in 1989, the National Center for PTSD addresses the needs of Veterans and other trauma survivors with PTSD. The center conducts research to improve scientific understanding of PTSD, various co-occurring conditions, and suicide.
3. Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers (MIRECCs): VA’s 15 MIRECCs research the causes and treatments of mental disorders and use education to put new knowledge into routine clinical practice in VA. These specialized mental health centers of excellence are an essential part of VA’s ability to meet Veterans’ needs.
4. Virtual Hope Box: The Virtual Hope Box is a smartphone app designed to help Veterans cope with stress and unpleasant thoughts, including those that could lead to suicide. It contains items that serve as reminders of positive life experiences or reasons for living, as well as simple tools to help with coping, relaxation, and distraction.
Wickshire’s Veteran Resources
At Wickshire Senior Living, we support our senior Veterans and work to help them feel their best in a welcoming environment. Part of doing so means helping them learn how to pay for their care at our communities. Our insightful Aid & Attendance page – as well as our latest article on the matter – can help them see which financial benefits they qualify for to help them pay for senior living.
Mental health support for senior veterans is critical. Whether it’s through VA mental health services, innovative smartphone apps like the Virtual Hope Box, or specialized centers like the National Center for PTSD and MIRECCs, there are numerous resources and programs available. By addressing mental health issues and providing the necessary support, we can help our senior veterans live healthier, more fulfilled lives.
1. Veterans Affairs Research on Mental Health. https://www.research.va.gov/topics/mental_health.cfm.
2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Supporting the Behavioral Health Needs of Our Nation’s Veterans. https://www.samhsa.gov/blog/supporting-behavioral-health-needs-our-nations-veterans.