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‘There Is Strength In Seeking Help’ Says Veterans Mental Health Advocate
On Aug. 31, the last of the American troops left Afghanistan. In an afternoon address, President Biden spoke extensively about the costs of war for American servicemembers and veterans and the lasting impacts on their mental health.
Kenneth Marfilius is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and an assistant teaching professor at Syracuse University’s Falk College. Professor Marfilius specializes in military mental health, veteran social work, suicide prevention, and military culture and social work practice.
Prof. Marfilius is available to discuss and answer questions about post-traumatic stress disorder, especially in the case of veterans and members of the military. Utilizing personal experience and academic work, he details what active duty and veteran populations may be facing in the coming days.
“With the current situation in Afghanistan, the ‘forever war’, it has now arrived in the living rooms of all Americans with a tragic end. I have heard from active duty and veteran populations the feeling of the need to do something in this moment, often rendering them to feel helpless. It is important to note the feelings about the current situation are normal reactions to an abnormal and complex situation.
“Feelings do not make veterans weak, but strong. It is acceptable to be experiencing a range of emotions. Paying attention to those feelings while talking with fellow veterans, active service members, family members, and friends is a sign of strength. Most veterans, and civilians alike, are affected by tragedies and experience some level of psychological distress. The distress can range from feelings of sadness, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and even anger.
“Both in my work as a former United States Air Force officer serving in the role of active-duty mental health provider and in my work with the Department of Veteran Affairs, I have experienced first-hand the many protective factors that come with individuals who have served in combat operations. Factors that include sense of purpose, feeling of belonging, social support, camaraderie, and the drive to do what’s best for all of humanity. Sacrificing oneself for a safer nation and a safer world. In my clinical practice and research, our nation’s service members who have experienced post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, loss, suffering, and grief often state that if presented with the opportunity, they would go back to serve with their brothers and sisters in arms. This desire speaks to both the unfailing resolve of our service members and the difficulty they experience when reintegrating into life at home.
“Mental health should be a top priority for these service members and their families in both honoring sacrifices made and re-engaging with loved ones here at home. Tending to one’s mental health now during a time of crisis is a preventive measure to help mitigate the potential long-lasting impacts. Individuals with pre-existing conditions, such as severe mental health disorders and/or the experience of adverse childhood experiences, are particularly vulnerable during times of crisis and must have access to quality mental health care and ensure their basic needs are being met. When mental health is left untreated for extended periods of time, there could be several consequences. For example, waiting to seek treatment could impact relationships, occupational, and social functioning. People with untreated mental illness make up a significant number (close to 1/3) of Americans experiencing homelessness.
“There is strength in seeking help. There is purpose in caring for one another. Reaching out for social support protects all of us. You, your family, the ones who care about you, your communities. A stronger veteran community is a stronger American society.
“To the family members, caregivers, and civilians who are wondering what they can do, it’s simple; call a veteran or military member today and ask how they are doing. You never know, that call just may save a life. Veterans looking for help can find the information on their local facility’s website or call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, and press 1, or text 838255 to connect with a VA responder.”
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