Exposure to traumatic combat and operational experiences affects service members and veterans not only spiritually and psychologically, but also socially. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with veterans’ mental health creeps through society as an increasing number of warriors cope with mental health issues.
As the largest veterans service organization in the world, the Wounded Warrior Project leads the charge to eliminate the stigma. Through the support of donors, it offers veterans free, specialized mental health programs and services that provide safe, private environments for warriors to express themselves. And there are three ways the public can help break through the stigma.
First, educate yourself. PTSD is not just something veterans deal with. Family members, neighbors, and friends can be coping with it. Anyone who experiences a traumatic event could develop it. First responders during 9/11 are a prime example. Those who are rape survivors, grew up in an abusive home, endured a natural disaster or horrific car accident, or any traumatic experience could potentially develop PTSD.
Talk about PTSD. Warriors experience different types of trauma, but it doesn’t mean they are dangerous. In fact, it’s the opposite. People tend to isolate themselves after trauma to avoid triggers. Bringing these issues to the forefront can open doors. From warriors sharing their daily struggles with family, caregivers, or fellow warriors to simply raising awareness for the general public, Wounded Warrior and other VSOs have programs and services that can help start that dialogue. We also have an innovative mental health support line, WWP Talk, where warriors can receive weekly emotional support over the phone.
Finally, lead by example. Warriors suffering from the invisible wounds of war are not broken. They are just like you and me. Be careful of preconceived judgments, and be mindful of how you think and speak. Using words such as "coping" and "managing" versus "suffering" and "struggling" when discussing PTSD with warriors is an empowering way to communicate with warriors. Begin incorporating positive verbal and nonverbal communication when discussing general mental wellness – you never know who is watching and learning from your example.