Mental Health Versus Mental Toughness

TOPSHOT – A US Army serviceman sits at the tailgate of an helicopter carrying US Defence Secretary, April 24, 2017. (JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kaylah Jackson

In 2013, the VA released a study about veterans and suicide: approximately 22 veterans a day die by suicide.

What followed was a whirlwind attempt of expanding the awareness of this statistic. From Twitter hashtags and pushup videos on Facebook, the number 22 took on a whole new meaning.

Fast forward a few years and the numbers of veterans dying by suicide has decreased to 20 a day, but some feel like the overuse of the statistic has sensationalized the reality of mental health and that action in addition to awareness is the key to facing suicide.

“‘I need help, that means I’m not strong,’ ‘I didn’t want my other friends to see me as weak’…we have to start changing the conversation about suicide in this country and in America overall, especially veteran and military communities, that this is a health condition,” says Emily Blair, Manager for Military, Veterans and Policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Let’s face it. No matter what branch you joined, the process to become a Marine, Airman, Sailor or Soldier was one that changed you forever. Your uniform and hygiene routine was regimented, “adapt and overcome” became a way of life, and you experienced working through harsh physical conditions. It might feel natural to set aside emotions of sadness, guilt or depression.

In the military, we have a culture of using a “one size fits all” method for solutions, but the truth is that mental health is complex and different for everyone: not one strategy or resource is the answer in dealing with suicide prevention.

While the VA and other agencies advertise their 247/7 veteran crisis hotline, 1-800-273-8255, and text messaging contact, which are great resources, those aren’t you’re only options.

Whether you would rather make a call and talk to a licensed physician, have a sit down conversation or you’d feel more comfortable expressing yourself to a fellow veteran–help doesn’t have to start and end with the VA.

Dr. Jerry Reed, US Navy veteran, and Senior VP for Practice Leadership at the Education Development Center and Executive Committee Member for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention encourages collaboration across the board in the suicide prevention conversation.

“We don’t want to silo our approaches to thinking that the only place the veteran can get help is in the Veterans Administration. That’s certainly one place for help, but there are plenty of service providers, and community mental health centers and community behavioral centers, and hospitals around the country that may be the door the veteran walks through.”

If we want to create actionable solutions for lowering the suicide rate to zero, we have to speak and act intentionally. Do the 22 push ups and then reach out to someone: volunteer at a crisis hotline, call a fellow veteran to check up on them, or if you, yourself, might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, speak out—to your command, doctor or a friend.

As Dr. Reed says, “when we fly in formation, that’s when we’re going to save lives, it’s when we fly solo that we’re going to have a challenge.”

For suicide prevention and more mental health resources, visit the ConnectingVets  Get Help “Health” page.


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