Veterans Mental Health Should Be Remembered During International Men’s Day

By Cain Hernandez
Blog Content Contributor

Nov. 11. Many of you recognize this date as Veterans Day, a time when we pay tribute to the honorable men and women who chose a path of selflessness over all else. Nov. 19. This less recognizable date is International Men’s Day (IMD). Contrary to what you might be thinking, IMD is not a celebration of all things “masculine”. You won’t see men taking to the streets to celebrate their love of whiskey, beards or craft beer. No, the real purpose of the holiday is to bring awareness to male issues involving mental and physical health, violence, positive role models, gender identity and much more. Considering the tragic event that occurred on the Texas State University campus earlier this week, IMD’s 2016 theme, Stop Male Suicide, seems unfortunately fitting.

Male & Female Veteran Suicide

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs highlighted an unfortunate trend of suicide risk among recently leaved veterans who served either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars between 2001 and 2007. One notable takeaway from the findings was the fact that deployed veterans had a much lower suicide risk than non-deployed veterans. It seems that the trauma induced from war begin to surface once the veterans are relieved from active duty.

Another important note is that the suicide rate among veteran males and females is relatively close, compared to the substantial difference in suicide rate among non-veteran men and women. The findings surveyed close to 174,000 people in 23 states between 2000 and 2010, and showed a difference of four annual deaths between female and male veterans. That rate is incredibly close, compared to the 15-annual death difference among non-veteran men and women. What I concluded from these tragic findings is that severe mental trauma seems to adversely affect all human, despite your gender.

Photo by Marlene Nuñez.
Photo by Marlene Núñez.

A Decline in Wealth and Work in Older Male Veterans

Although the emotional damage among male and female veterans is relatively similar, the economic and social differences appear to have a significantly negative affect on older male veterans. A recent study from the Michigan Retirement Research Center exposed a vital figure among older veterans approaching retirement. In 1992, veterans between the ages of 51 and 56 were shown to be better educated, monetarily more well-off, physically healthier and more likely have work than their non-veteran counterparts. By 2010, this statistic made a complete 180 degree turn. The same age group in 2010 was shown to be less well-educated, poorer, unhealthier and less likely to be working than non-veterans.

Although it can be tough to pinpoint the exact cause for this, the study suggested a couple of likely factors at play, most notably the switch from a draft to an all-volunteer military, and the evolution of retirement programs over the years.

Homelessness

This is probably one of the most common and unfortunate associations with veterans. This is another huge contrast between male and female veterans, since male veterans account for 96 percent of the homeless veteran population. Veterans aged between 18-30 are 50 precent more likely to become homeless then the rest of the adult population, with close to 1.5 million veterans considered at-risk of becoming homeless. Of course, these statistics lead many to wonder what the leading cause of this not so recent trend is, although the answer is once again not that simple.

A combination of factors come into play when you consider veteran homelessness, but a chief cause is lack of support and social isolation. Veterans discharged for psychiatric reasons often find returning to life after service to be difficult. They may have a difficult time relating to their families and significant others. Some might turn to substance abuse to deal with the emotional scars left on them from their time in the service. In fact, two thirds of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems. With all that said, most veterans will have a normal transition back to civilian life, but 1.5 million veterans at-risk of becoming homeless is a large number that should be addressed.

Mental Health

The topics I’ve discussed thus far are complex issues, but what everything I have talked about can be traced to mental health. One of IMD’s concerns was the mental health of males. In veterans, that problem needs more attention. There seems to be several barriers that prevent veterans from getting the help they need. Some of these barriers are personal, like fear, shame and the embarrassment of asking for help, while others include long wait times to receive help and lack of awareness. Once again, we can associate these issues with the goals of IMD.

Glen Poole is the IMD coordinator for the UK. His motto, and the motto for this year’s IMD, is LEARN+LOVE+LISTEN. Achieving progression and finding solutions in our society require awareness and discussion. I feel like many of us have a hard time putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we all simply took the time to think and genuinely try to understand someone else’s struggles, the world might be a much more pleasant place.

Featured image by Marlene Núñez.

Holly Henrichsen

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