Three Pieces of Advice for Transitioning Veterans

Standard

Bryan Adams is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring him to your campus or organization to speak about mental health.

bryan

Through the drones of machinery and roaring turbines, a calm voice came over the loudspeaker of the C-141 troop transport plane, “please prepare for landing.” I had been in Iraq for over a year on what seemed like a dark and twisted Groundhog Day. Stepping off of the plane in Germany was a surreal experience. The lush green hills and puffy white clouds draped against the blue sky were a far cry from the deserts of Iraq. I had never felt so relieved in my life.

After being wounded during an ambush, I came closer than I had ever imagined to dying. My life as an Infantryman in Iraq was a mix of long hours and overwhelming boredom, peppered with brief moments of pure terror, racing adrenaline, and extreme focus.  Conversations with friends ran the gamut of pop culture, politics, sports, music, and goals. There was a lot of time to think about home, about family and friends, and about what I wanted to do when I got out of the military.

The first few months back in the United States I was riding an almost euphoric emotional high, spending time with family and friends and enjoying the freedoms our country has to offer. For me, trying to settle back in to civilian life was the priority. Eventually the newness of it all faded away and I was left with the realization that I had no real plan. I was 21 years old and had spent three of my formative early adult years in a highly structured environment where “right place, right time, and right uniform” was the overarching mantra to the lower enlisted soldier. Having choices and excessive free time were a welcomed, yet unfamiliar luxury.

I became consumed with anxious thoughts that kept me awake at night. Depression crept in as the reality of what I had lived through began to fully sink it. The guilt of surviving, while other soldiers who were stronger, faster, and more proficient did not, was hard to digest. Frustration permeated my daily life as the larger questions loomed over almost every moment of my existence.

Admitting that I needed help was one of the toughest realizations I came to in my life. Stigmas are a very real barrier to mental health treatment. From my personal experience, they are even more pronounced in the military, where not being able to pull your weight can lead to mission failure or getting someone killed.  Through supportive friends, family, and caregivers I accepted the realization that I wasn’t able to do it on my own and I sought treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

bryan-adams-am-conference-2010After years of focus, time, and hard work I was able to fully appreciate and respect the importance of mental health. I felt the need to educate others, to change the conversation about mental health. That is what lead me to Active Minds— their mission is to eliminate stigmas on college campuses.

I found myself working to raise awareness for mental health treatment through speaking engagements and publications; my current duties also include working in veteran’s services at Rutgers University, where I have learned a lot about the re-integration process and mental health.  I do not however, consider myself an expert; I feel that I am more of an observer and fellow traveler on the journey. I want to share some of the practices which I have seen as very effective not only to my personal situation but many returning veterans.

Below you will find three recommendations I have for you to keep in mind if you are a transitioning veteran or working with transitioning veterans.

  1. Have a plan:
  • Develop a concrete plan of action several months before leaving the service. Smaller goals      are an easy way to measure progress and build confidence.
  • If you plan on attending college after leaving the military it is a good idea to start researching schools up to a year in advance as many have early admissions deadlines. Learn about their rankings, majors, accolades, and veteran programs. Start contacting them with any questions you may have; there is no such thing as a dumb question.
  • If you are looking to start working immediately afterwards, take advantage of the career and professional development resources available to you as a veteran. Veteran friendly companies, job fairs, and job placement companies for veterans are all great resources. A simple internet search can yield local and federal hiring events that could connect you with Human Resource professionals and hiring managers.

Much like in the military, you should dress for success. Make sure you prepare for your interviews by practicing with others. Do research on the company, its goals, and major initiatives. Tailor your resume to the specific company you are applying for and utilize resources available to translate your training and experience into civilian terminology.

  1. Take Care of Yourself: Maintaining a healthy mind and body will make your ability to deal with stress, change, and adversity more manageable. It has been shown that as many as one in four adults have some form of diagnosable mental health disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of treatments and psychiatric services which can be tailored to your individual needs. You can also file for disability claims for any injuries or illnesses you believe you may have developed as a result of your service. You may be eligible to receive financial compensation as a result. If you are going to file a disability claim I recommended seeking assistance from a specialized claims officer or veteran’s service organization. If you have private insurance you can utilize providers within your network who may have specializations in working with veterans.

There are many other holistic approaches which you can take advantage of as a returning veteran. Mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, outdoor recreation, regular exercise regimens, and group activities which promote healthy coping mechanisms have all been proven beneficial. A service animal can also act as a day-to-day support mechanism to help you navigate through life. Seeking treatment should never be viewed as weakness; it takes a strong person to take the tough steps necessary in recovery.

  1. Continue to Serve: As veterans we are used to having a mission and serving the country for the greater good. This sense of service runs strong in us all and it is important that we continue to fulfill this need. Community service and helping others is one of the highest forms of self-actualization one can achieve. There are many opportunities for veterans to give back to their communities and country. We can use our skills, knowledge, and experience to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate.

Veterans Day: The Life of an Infantryman

Standard

Briggs Army

Having served in the United States Army from 1981 to 1984, I thought it a privilege when I was asked by Active Minds staff to write a blog concerning Veterans Day. Each year November 11th is Veterans Day, an official United States federal holiday.

This day honors those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and also coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world, and also marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.

So, what’s military life like?  As an infantryman, here’s a story about a training mission I was on.  It was September of 1983 and I was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington.  My unit was chosen to go to Panama and attend Jungle Warfare School.  We flew by military plane to Panama and arrived at Fort Sherman to begin our training.

Day one was spent acclimating to the heat and humidity (just one day).  Day two we were in the jungle to begin our training.  This jungle is what they call “triple canopy,” meaning extremely abundant in flora life.  When it rained, it would take several minutes after hitting the tops of the trees until the water would finally drip to the ground.  The sunlight was cast out most of the time, hidden by jungle foliage. Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round Up: June 26

Standard

How Colleges Stop Depressed Students From Returning To Campus

UntitledThis Buzzfeed article follows one student’s experience with Brown University’s leave of absence policy locking him out of his education by denying him readmission 5 times. The Active Minds Chapter at Brown is working administrators to create change about mental health on campus.

It’s Not about Mental Illness: The Big Lie that Always Follows Mass Shootings by White Males

This Salon article argues that solely blaming mental illness after a mass shooting not only further stigmatizes mental health and impedes help seeking, but avoids addressing the deeper issues of the madness of the society that we live in.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: May 29

Standard

14 Common Misconceptions About People Who Go to Therapy

How does stigma affect people’s willingness to say the words “I go to therapy”? This author debunks 14 popular misconceptions to encourage more people to seek treatment.

Beautiful Train Music Video Honors Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness

Train releases their music video for Give It All blending the power of dance and music to express loss and encourage those who are struggling to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1 (800) 273-8255.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: May 22

Standard

Colleges Relieve Pressure Post Suicides

In a Huffington Post Live interview, Active Minds at MIT, Active Minds national office, and the Jed Foundation discussed the multi-faceted pressures college students face, administrative policies about leaves, and help seeking behaviors.  The video is well worth a watch for all StigmaFighters working to change the conversation about mental health.

A Commencement Speech For The Already Graduated: Be Courageous

In honor of commencement speeches, one Forbes author has advice for graduates and non-graduates alike: be courageous because anxiety is inevitable. Finding healthy ways to cope with anxiety should be our goal.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: Feb 13

Standard

pinterest-pic-459669Valentine’s Day a Struggle for Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Researcher Says

Valentine’s Day is not chocolate and roses for everyone; especially with the societal pressures and incessant social media posts, people’s social anxiety worsens around Feb 14.  One researchers suggests using online dating lessen anxiety.

8 Ways To Use Your Phone To Benefit Your Mental Health

Despite the countless articles discussing the ways that your phone is hurting your well-being, here are ways to use that device for improving mental health.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: Jan 16

Standard

urlOur iPhones, Ourselves: Cellphone Separation Anxiety Is Real, Study Finds

After finding that participants experienced physical symptoms including increased heart rate and blood pressure, researches concluded that an iPhone can become an extension of oneself thus causing distress when separated from its owner.

Gender Divide: Trans Youth Face Higher Mental Health Risk, Study Says

A new study finds a high prevalence of mental health disorders in people who identify as transgender when compared to their cisgender peers. Following the death of Leelah Alcorn, public opinion (now buffered with scientific proof) may be able to implement the changes that the study recommended.  Active Minds also provides statistics on transgender college student mental health.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: Jan. 2

Standard

maxresdefaultIs Your New Year Resolution Hurting Your Mental Health?

About 50 percent of people make New Year resolutions every year, but almost 90 percent will fail. Some say that setting ourselves up for this annual failure means our mental health suffers, as we feel discouraged about our inability to lose weight, be healthier or improve jobs or relationships.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: Dec. 19

Standard

ManIsolatedAmongMen-DepressionWhy Depression is Underreported in Men

Men oftentimes don’t recognize symptoms, try to tough out difficulties for fear of the social stigma, and hide their feelings, which can lead to disastrous outcomes including drug abuse and a higher rate of death by suicide.

Computer Program May Reduce Anxiety and Suicide

After noting anxiety sensitivity as a risk factor, researchers at Florida State University designed a computer program to prevent suicide my managing anxiety. Although the program is only 45 minutes long, the recent results look promising.

Continue Reading

Mental Health News Round-Up: Dec 12

Standard

graduation_500x279Should Suicidal Students Be Forced to Leave Campus?

Two years ago, a Princeton student was not allowed to return to school after a suicide attempt. Today, students are afraid to go to the campus counseling center for fear of being forced to leave. Princeton does not yet have a chapter of Active Minds.

VA Expanding Services to Victims of Sexual Assault

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is now offering mental health benefits to veterans regardless of whether they were on active duty or inactive duty when sexually assaulted or sexually harassed.  Ruth Moore has been advocating for this change that allows National Guard members and reservist to receive the necessary treatment.

Continue Reading