Mental Health Services
In 2010, it was reported that 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Reports waver on the actual and projected percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans dealing with the impact, signs, and symptoms of some form of post-traumatic stress but few indicate it is any less than 20 percent.
When you consider that asking for help is not one of the characteristics generally shared by the veteran population, it is not surprising that many student veterans would probably not even consider seeking out mental health services on campus. In addition, student veterans often do not know about the mental health services or related accommodations available to them.
During the ACE Veteran Success Jam, one veteran mentioned that he was unaware that he was eligible for a note taker because of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which led him to constantly scan the room for threats during class. Having someone’s notes to refer to has made a huge impact on his studies, and he has since spread the word to other veterans on campus.
The mental health services offered by your institution and community, and the communication of these services, are of critical importance. The good news is that there has been more media attention paid to asking for help, and more and more troops (combat and non-combat) and their families are starting to recognize the need for potential behavioral health services as part of a broader transition. Still, getting them to take advantage of the services (which means admitting they might need help) is often an uphill battle.
When offering mental health services, be sure that a variety of options, methods and services are considered and offered to students. Some veterans will find support groups very helpful, but others may feel overwhelmed. And some may enjoy a one-on-one environment, while others would find this type of intervention off-putting.
If they are civilians, counseling personnel may have a significant cultural gap to close with veterans. Counseling personnel should be educated in military terminology, as well as both military and veteran culture (which are different). Schools with mental health staff dedicated to understanding and relating to veterans issues have proven to be successful.
Other institutions provide professional development training for their already existing counselors, while still others rely on Masters of Social Work students. One (civilian) university mental health professional said that when a student assumed she was a veteran, she knew she had “passed the test.”Stress, anxiety, and depression can greatly affect any student’s academic performance. For student veterans with combat experience and combat-related injuries (psychological, cognitive, or physical), post-traumatic stress, and/or traumatic brain injury may be issues that put this population at a greater risk of developing mental health issues and, thus, needing to seek out mental health services.
Partnering with resources from the VA, local Vet Centers, and community mental health providers will ensure you have the right options for most students.
Note: Mental health is not always a concern that accompanies post-traumatic stress. Standard social work-related issues often arise, as well, such as financial struggles, housing challenges, family issues, and more. Directing veterans with combat stress to assistance with these services is another exemplary practice.