Memorial day marks the first weekend where we get a small taste of what the summer may bring. We celebrate with our grills, backyard gatherings, and first seasonal trips to the beach. For students, it is a weekend long celebration marking the last few weeks of school. And, while many appreciate the day off work, others take the weekend to remember loved ones who have served our country.
Memorial day is for all veterans, not just those who were lost in combat, but also for those who we lost here at home. Although many veterans pass from natural causes, there is an alarming rate of mental health related deaths among veterans. In 2012 there were 295 soldiers lost in combat. In the same year, there were 349 servicemen reported to have mental health related deaths. This shows 18% more American soldiers die from suicide than in combat. An even more alarming set of numbers come from Operation Inherent Resolve. As of December 27th, 2016, 31 US military men have been killed. Out of those 31, 11 were recorded as a result of a mental illness. Not all of the mental health related deaths came from soldiers who had seen combat. More than a third of those had never been deployed. The most common demographic has been 18-24 year olds who didn’t seek help in fear of undermining their career. For those who were deployed, they are at the highest risk of suicide right after returning home from overseas. Although the trend of mental health related deaths is on the rise, there has been effort from the United States government to help those struggling with their mental health in the military.
In 2013, a bill was passed that would provide peer counseling to those returning from combat. This program pairs servicemen who have recently seen combat with veterans who have made the transition back to being a civilian. They are also offering “resilience training,” which teaches enlistees how to deal with stress better. This was part of a campaign to spread suicide and mental health awareness. This push also included adding “The Military Crisis Line” (1-800-273-8255). There are many things we can do to help support veterans, but the biggest thing is being understanding and supportive. Most of us will never see what they saw and we can never feel what they feel. We might not know what others feel, but we can always try to understand.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran struggling with a mental illness this Memorial Day, please reach out. Help is always available. Call 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Text 838255. On behalf of i understand, thank you for your service to our country.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - Veterans & Active Duty
Veterans Crisis Line
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Veterans
by Keegan McGonigal
About the Author
Keegan McGonigal is currently an intern with i understand for the 2016-2017 school year. He is a senior at Kent Innovation High School, soccer player, and mental health advocate.