If you are at all active on Facebook, no doubt you have seen the campaign of people doing push ups to raise awareness for the need for mental health resources for veterans.
If you haven’t, people are posting photos of themselves doing push-ups for 22 days and tagging a different person to challenge them to the same campaign and so on…
This campaign does nothing for veterans except to prove that the person posting the photo can do a push-up.
Studies vary about the actual rate of veterans suicide, and it depends a lot on which population you examine. It’s a statistics issue and an extrapolation discussion. However, there are some common themes that we should take a look at:
- The number of younger veterans seeking mental health services is higher than it has ever been in history. The veterans we see today in therapy do not have greater issues than veterans of other conflicts. As a culture, there has been a growing public awareness about the importance of seeking therapy. Additionally, we screen our veterans at every turn (pre-deployment, post-deployment health screenings, for example). If you are on or have been on Active Duty for the past five years, you can’t turn around without receiving some screening questionnaire every six months. Our younger veterans, in many cases, have been taught about the value of mental health services and expect to use them.
- In spite of the Department of Defense’s constant efforts, some Service Members and veterans still perceive accessing mental health services as a weakness. Many people are taught from the beginning to “tote their own ruck” and asking someone to share in their burdens is a sign of weakness.
- We are a military force that is overly reliant on medications. Please don’t take this as a rally against the use of antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics or any other psychiatric medication. My psychiatrist friends will always talk about the need for therapy IN ADDITION to drugs. However, most soldiers started on medications during their tours on Active Duty have learned that medications are partially the answer to reducing physical or emotional pain. As with the civilian population, prescriptions don’t mix well with recreational drug, and alcohol use. While we may try to institute one prescriber programs while the service member is on Active Duty, life sometimes requires multiple prescribers in the civilian world and overdoses, and medication interactions occur, sometimes with catastrophic outcomes.
- There are just not enough skilled civilian and military resources to meet the current demand for mental health treatment. Skilled is the operative word. Over the years, I’ve heard Service Members recount some hair-raising stories on the range of behavioral health providers they’ve encountered in their quest for treatment. Good providers are frequently booked for months out and for many if they get care, it is the luck of the draw on what they can access and most importantly, afford. Many therapists do not take third party insurance, and so it becomes an access issue waiting for an appointment at either a military treatment facility that accepts retirees (many do not) and waiting for a VA provider.
Doing push-ups does nothing to provide services for veterans. All it does is makes the poster feel better about themselves.
Here are ways you can really help.
- If you are a licensed behavioral health provider, consider donating one session per day to a veteran in need. Service matching programs such as Give an Hour match providers with patients who are in need of services. If you are not a mental health provider, you can still volunteer your services to help or pay for a session as a charitable donation..
- Support services such as the Veterans Crisis Line. Consider sharing their services as a Facebook meme, a banner on your blog or in your twitter feed.
- You can save your arms. Donate twenty-two dollars to services mentioned above, the USO, the VA or to any other vetted program that serves veterans. With more funding comes more access to providers which translates to access to care.
- Reach out to the veterans in your social circles. People may not always tell you they are struggling in conversation but if you notice their social media posts seem sad, angry or detached, message them and check in.
- Take time to listen and be present. Do not constantly look at your phone, watch or any other distraction. Listen. Ask reflective questions. Check in. It’s okay to ask if they know how to access care. I can’t tell you how many clients over the years were turned around by one real conversation with someone who they felt cared.
Be brave, reach out, support our veterans.
Service Members need more than words, selfies and push ups to get through this crisis, they need action.