by Melanie VanderPol-Bailey, MSW, CSW-PIP
In 1999, the US Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month, to ensure that our nation publicly had the opportunity to honor our military, their families, their sacrifices and their service. As we pause this Memorial Day, it is important to both honor bravery and also recognize the silent costs of service for military personal, veterans and their families. Military service is demanding, requiring persons to face physical, emotional and psychological challenges. In community is easy to focus on the nobility, courage, sacrifice and bravery of our service members. It is important to publicly honor and support with recognition and ceremony those who have dedicated their lives to protecting our freedoms.
It is also easy for people to shy away from the reality that the demands of this profession can take a toll on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Honoring and understanding the silent costs of service holds value as well.
Some of the mental health challenges include the transitioning back and forth from war zones and operations to civilian life; the emotional, spiritual and psychological toll of combat; and the stigma that can surround mental health in a traditionally resilient and tough profession.
Although there have been improvements in reintegration programs, the transitions that are required of our service men and women are not simple. It is hard to shift from a highly structured, protect and survive environment back to civilian life. Home dynamics and roles have shifted to accommodate the hats previously worn by the service member in their absence. This is a significant adjustment for both veterans and families, and can often leave persons feeling lost and alone.
Serving and protecting can translate into the harm of others. This emotional and psychological toll is heavy and often kept locked inside as it can feel too painful to touch or name. Witnessing violence death and suffering can lead to conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression anxiety disorders and substance abuse the constant threat to one’s life and the pressure to make life or death decisions can leave lasting emotional scars.
The military culture traditionally emphasizes toughness, resilience and self-reliance, which can discourage seeking help for mental health issues. Some fear if struggles are acknowledged, they will be perceived as weak or unfit for duty. Recognition and valuing mental health support must also be visible and important within military culture.
When seek to understand and sit in the discomfort of the paradox of courage and pain, we can better support the individuals whom have stepped up to serve country and community. Wonderful supports and resources are readily available. Government agencies, military organizations and civilian supports are working together to support our service members in creative ways. As we recognize and appreciate our service members, let us also recognize that attention to their mental health and well being is brave, noble and courageous.
River Counseling, Sioux Falls Psychological Services and Stronghold Counseling Services in Yankton and Sioux Falls would like to pause to thank and recognize our local community service members and their families, past and present. Both your active service and continued service within our small communities are noticed and invaluable. We see you and are here to support your mental wellness.