Mental Health in the Military
Only 1 percent of the United States population serves in the United States military. These men and women endure more than the average individual – long term separations from family during deployments, strict disciplinary work expectations and a loss of control over job position or place of living.
The military fights for our country to remain free and defend us from any threats.
Military service exists so that American citizens can have peace of mind in the safety of their constitutional rights as well as the safety of our American soil. The ironic part is that military members, knowingly and willingly, sacrifice some of those rights to serve the country and keep us safe. This sense of service and sacrifice is honorable and unique to military members.
With a career and occupation that is so demanding on a service members whole being – physically and mentally – it is important to keep in mind that our men and women in uniform are still human. And mental health is crucial for each of us, including those in the armed forces. Over the years, many service members have stated fear of speaking out with the needs of the mental health – they did not want to appear weak or unfit for duty. The military requires its members to always be deployment ready – and for those who are struggling with managing their mental health, this can cause suppression of mental health needs.
The stigma surrounding mental health has blocked our service members from reaching out and getting the help that they need, and the care that is provided by the military itself.
Each day, approximately 22 veterans complete suicide. And currently in the US military, suicide is the second leading cause of death among active duty members. For this reason, and for these losses, we must continue the fight against the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage our service members to seek the help that they need.
We reached out to a variety of service members in differing branches, as well as veterans, to find out how they took care of their mental health while serving in the military.
- “Let your friends know what is going on with you. We are so close to one another in our units, and so lean on that support. We cannot get through this lifestyle or our missions without one another” – Active Duty, Air Force
- “Maintain a healthy routine with your diet and working out. And not just for your physical tests, but for your body’s sake. If you take the time to put that stress into physical activity, it serves as a release from everything you have to deal with. Don’t fill up on junk food and alcohol either. It just makes you feel worse about day to day tasks.” Veteran, Marine Corp
“Find out the resources. The military has great benefits – especially for your mental health and family health. It’s a huge influence on why most of us join, its definitely a perk of the job, its for the benefits. So take advantage of them” – Active Duty, Air Force
- .“Get off base and do something fun in the civilian world. Try not to forget that there is more out there than the base you are on and the mission you are given. Don’t let yourself become consumed, because then you just struggle to be happy” – Active duty, Army
- “Leave work at home. The amount of time we get with family is sacred. You don’t want to bring that into your place of peace. Make sure not to dwell on the days ups or downs when you get to see your family. Cherish those moments.” – Veteran, Air Force
Happy Memorial Day to the Men and Women who have served this country, are serving now, and that we have lost. Thank you for your sacrifice for our country.
Sarah Waldrop is the Southeast Regional Coordinator at the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee. Sarah’s passionate about working at MHAET because she wants to promote and educate on the importance of mental health and early intervention. Sarah most enjoys building a strong community network, and hearing the stories from students that she gets to teach. She lives in Chattanooga with her fiancé, Nate, and their two dogs, Brodie and Bella. Sarah practices self-care daily through fitness and quality time spent outdoors with her family.