More than 20 percent of the veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from a mental health condition. With more than 2 million troops deployed there (and counting), that startling number will only rise. These veterans suffer depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health conditions mostly due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
Being called to help veterans cope with the trauma of their duty helps more than one person. Not only are veterans afflicted, but their family and friends as well. Here are five ways you can help.
Counseling service members, veterans and their families.
If you are called to help those impacted by military service heal their mental and emotional wounds, becoming a licensed clinical social worker is a powerful way to become an advocate. Most social workers have completed a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Social Work from an accredited university. These degree programs often require 900 – 1,200 hours of field work before graduation, so you will be able to be an effective mental health counselor from the first day on the job.
Exercising for mental health of service members.
Many people—not just veterans—have difficulty talking about the challenging experiences of their service. That’s why it is important to help them to manage by supporting healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise. While often primarily seen for its physical benefits, exercise is a potent tool for mental health. You can help veterans overcome the challenges of transitioning into civilian life with fitness-focused organizations like Team RWB and Hope for the Warriors.
Connecting homeless pets with hopeful vets.
Having an animal to care for can inject our lives with purpose, responsibility and, most importantly, joy. These are three things that many veterans managing mental health conditions need in order to make it through the day. You can help give struggling veterans a renewed sense of purpose by supporting nonprofits like Pets for Vets. These organizations can use your time to help, or you can support their mission by donating money and in-kind gifts. If you are looking for a more hands-on experience, you can help volunteer with grant writing, healthcare and foster homes.
Helping unemployed veterans find meaningful work.
In 2014, more than 500,000 veterans were unemployed. For some, reintegrating back into a civilian workforce is confusing and disorienting. Other veterans, roughly 20 percent, are unable to work due to a service-related disability. You can make a major impact in their lives and the livelihood of their families by supporting their job search. Volunteering at an organization that provides help with resume writing and interviewing is one way to help. Donating suits, shoes and other interview and business attire is another way. Some churches and other community organizations also help veterans find employment by offering free job coaching sessions. Look into the ones in your city to see what services they need help with.
Providing childcare for veterans and their partners.
Sometimes the biggest barrier to working on mental health issues is finding the time. This is especially true for service members and veterans who need family counseling with their partners and spouses. You can help them carve out time to work on their relationship by volunteering as a childcare provider. Most families just need help a few hours a week so they can make their appointments. However, it’s not just veterans who could use childcare help. Active service members who are currently deployed can benefit, too. When your spouse is deployed, it’s similar to being a single parent. This is especially hard for parents who live away from their support systems. Volunteering to help with childcare can provide a huge relief to parents who feel alone, isolated and overwhelmed.
Mental health conditions are prevalent in the United States—we are a high stress, high anxiety culture. However, despite that reality, there is still a stigma attached to getting help, and this is especially true to people connected to military service. There is no effort too small to help these people have access to services that promote health and healing. The impact you can make is both immediate and long-term, life-giving and life-saving.