The experience of combat changes all of us. We are not the same person we were before we stepped into that reality. What we see, experience and endure, physically, emotionally, and psychologically is so far beyond the norm of human experience that it could not be otherwise. The intensity of the bond that builds between brothers-in-arms is like no other and, in most cases, cannot be found in any other circumstances.
When we come home and are discharged back into society, we feel the intense loss of that bond while, at the same time, we find it difficult to understand or to empathize with the everyday concerns that worry, bother, or challenge most people around us. They just don’t come up to the same level of what we lived through and fought against on a daily basis during our tours to the war zones. And they do not understand us or what we have been through. They can’t. Our experiences are shared only by we very few within the vast population of this country.
It is a sad fact that the level of suicides in our returning veterans has been unusually high. The factors are many and varied, but certainly are related to the experiences of combat and coming home changed and finding it difficult to “fit back in” with the society. This short video addresses the issue very powerfully.
From Welcome Home to All Alone
The reality of PTSD and its side effects on our behaviors add to the emotional confusion we often experience when we leave the war zones and the bonds of military culture behind and re-enter civilian society. All of this has a powerful effect on our own psychological status at times. Every human being struggles with life issues, with traumas of one kind or another. We often feel alone in our suffering as well. Depression amplifies these feelings even more.
When we sink too deeply into depression, the world can tend to become very small. We get lost in a whirlwind of interior suffering and it can become overwhelming to us. One of the scariest and most difficult realities of depression is that we get stuck within — it becomes harder and harder to look outward or forward. Our entire focus is directed inward at our own suffering. The world gets darker and we become more detached. The obvious danger of this level of depression is that thoughts of suicide begin to enter our minds.
We need to recognize the symptoms of depression in ourselves and, in the case of families, in our loved ones. We need to address those symptoms immediately. We need to help the one who is suffering depression with love and commitment. In the case of our veterans, the services, the VA, and the Pentagon have been trying to address this problem more directly in recent years. They are beginning to reshape military attitudes about PTSD and depression, improving the resources necessary to address and treat depression. They are starting to make the necessary services available to active duty service members, as well as veterans and their families.
A Natural Response to Unnatural Circumstances
It may sound strange, but depression may be a healthy response to the kinds of experiences our veterans have gone through, both on the battlefield and in returning to civilian life. It is not possible to come away from such experiences unscathed psychologically.
The symptoms of depression, like the symptoms of any illness, point to the need to address any problems that are engendering it. There is a saying among those who work with people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” There is no doubt that the issues may be very deep and may require long efforts to address them effectively.
The VA and the military services are attempting to improve access to the medical and counseling services to active duty personnel and to our veterans who are experiencing these issues. They have been addressing this very serious problem more intensely over the last several years and this is good. Families must be engaged in the process as well. They need to have the support systems and training available to them so that they too can be a valuable asset in the healing process. Thankfully, most of the time, those suffering this level of depression, with proper professional care and the building of honest and healthy relationships, can find the inner strength and the tools not just to recover their equilibrium, but to thrive. In recovery there is new-found strength.
Veterans, if you are experiencing depression, please take advantage of the help that is being made available to you through the VA. If you are a family member who is witnessing the signs of depression in your loved one, please seek the help that is available to you. The Defense Department, the Pentagon, the military services, and the VA have made it a priority to reduce and to prevent suicides within our active duty military and our veteran communities. They are offering more and more medical and psychological counseling services. Take advantage of it. You are valued and you are important to us. We owe you the care that you need.
1) Sgt. Kyle Strey, a maintenance and retention NCO with the 227th Quartermaster Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), embraces his son Owen, 4, during a welcome home ceremony May 4, at Fort Campbell. The 227th QM returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan where the company served in small teams spread out on eight bases supporting the retrograde effort. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mary Rose Mittlesteadt, CC BY 2.0).
2) Soldiers from the 423rd Military Police Company march in formation to kick off the departure ceremony held June 12 at the unit located in Shoreham, N.Y. More than 500 family members, friends and community leaders spent several hours with the Soldiers. The 423rd will depart for Fort Bliss for training before deploying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in support of military police operations for U.S. forces.(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, CC BY 2.0).