Approximately one in five adults- more than 40 million Americans- suffer with a diagnosable mental condition, such as depression or anxiety. When the statistics are this high, does it make sense to place a negative stigma on Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental illnesses upon their return to civilian life?
Michelle Obama was a participant in the Joining Forces initiative for Give an Hour’s conference at the Newseum. Give an Hour is a great non-profit, made up of mental health professionals who provide free counseling to the troops, Veterans, and family members who have been affected by war. The first lady hopes this will help eliminate the stigma attached to seeking help for mental-health issues.
For some reason, mental health issues are often perceived differently from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or asthma. “That makes no sense,” the first lady said. “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness. So there should be absolutely no stigma around mental health. None. Zero.”
Mrs. Obama stresses that it is time to “flip the script” on mental health in this country. “It’s time. It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”
Not all Veterans are plagued with mental-health issues, but the Veterans who do struggle need support.
The First Lady shared one Veteran’s story. Ryan Rigdon, a Navy Veteran, deployed twice to Iraq to disarm enemy bombs. In Baghdad, Ryan came across a camouflaged IED that was live. While didn’t have his protective suit on, he knew the device could explode at any time. So he flipped it over and disarmed it with his bare hands.
After this, he began to experience extreme emotional highs and lows, severe headaches, ringing in his ears, and panic attacks. Once he was out of the military and back to civilian life, he faced additional struggles with his family, a sick child, and unemployment.
After hitting rock bottom and a contemplating suicide, Rigdon was encouraged to seek help. He connected with Give an Hour through the Veterans Affairs Department.
“In Ryan’s story we hear the story of far too many of our veterans: – the struggle to adjust to a new life [and] the terrors and anxieties that just won’t go away, even when they’re back home, safe in their own beds,” the first lady said.
Give an Hour is co-sponsoring the Campaign to Change Direction with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA will provide subject-matter expertise and will coordinate federal outreach through the Veterans Affairs, Defense and Health and Human Services department.
For more information, please visit http://www.giveanhour.org.
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Military Connection: Combatting Mental Health Issues: By Debbie Gregory