As the nation marks Veteran's Day to honor those who have served their country, it's important to remember that many soldiers battle mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression long after they return from combat. In fact, in recent years the lasting effects of military combat have become quite dire. Suicide rates in the U.S. Army now exceed the rate in the general population, and psychiatric admission is now the most common reason for hospitalization in the Army. These are concerning trends says Timothy Lineberry, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, an Air Force veteran and a suicide prevention expert for the Army.
"Even though large-scale military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are ending, the effects on the mental health of active-duty service members, reservists, and veterans are just beginning to be felt," Dr. Lineberry says. "Moreover, the potential effect on service members of their war experiences may manifest indefinitely into the future in the form of emerging psychiatric illnesses."
By some estimates, 1 in 5 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience symptoms of PTSD or major depression. Many do not seek treatment because they fear it will harm their careers, Dr. Lineberry says. Untreated, PTSD and depression can lead to drug use, marital problems, unemployment and even suicide.
For veterans and their families and friends, Dr. Lineberry says it's best to see a medical professional if these warning signs begin to occur:
*Sleep disturbances. Complaints of insomnia or other sleep problems in otherwise healthy soldiers, reservists, or veterans may signal the need for mental health screening.
*Disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month. Usually these thoughts will be severe, and the person will be having trouble keeping his or her life under control.
*Self-medication. Turning to alcohol or drugs to numb feelings isn't healthy, even though it may be a tempting way for a veteran to cope. It can lead to more problems and prevent healing.
*Flashbacks, or reliving a traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time. Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event and avoiding thinking or talking about the event are also warning signs of PTSD.
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