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"Be Mindful of Veterans during Mental Health Awareness Month" news article

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The National Institute on Mental Health estimates that there were 43.6 million adults in the United States with a mental illness in the past year. This number represents about 18 percent of Americans ages 18 or older.

DESPITE THIS, many people remain hesitant to talk openly about mental health and only about half of those who are affected receive treatment. Because of the stigma around mental health, as well as the misperceptions about what is treatable, many individuals unfortunately will go a lifetime without even knowing that there are resources that could improve their lives.

For instance, if your spouse breaks an arm, you take him to the hospital where a licensed doctor will put his arm in a cast or sling. That is commonplace and understood with any visible physical health condition. However, many Americans – including veterans and their families – still view mental health conditions as something that they should be able to deal with on their own rather than something to get treatment and support for.

This belief, in addition to negative perceptions surrounding mental health issues and the very real fear of how loved ones, friends, or colleagues will perceive them, keeps many people from seeking treatment.

At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, we believe it’s time to talk about mental health just as readily as we talk about physical health. The VA’s Make the campaign was created to change the conversation about mental health by featuring personal stories of recovery from real veterans.

IN MANY OF the veterans’ videos, they say they felt they did not need or deserve care because they didn’t have physical injuries, but later realized that emotional trauma and mental illness can be just as important to treat.

It’s important to note that most of our nation’s 23.1 million veterans never experience a mental health issue – and are able transition from military service to civilian life without major bumps or roadblocks. Whether or not they are challenged by experiences in or out of the service, today’s veterans are stepping forward to live healthy, productive lives, often with the help of resources that the VA, veteran service organizations and community-based organizations provide.

For those veterans who find they are having difficulty readjusting or struggling with mental health issues, there are a number of effective treatments that can help them manage their symptoms and greatly improve their quality of life.

The number of veterans receiving high-quality mental health treatment from VA has risen over the past few years from approximately 900,000 to more than 1.6 million in 2015. These numbers are continuing to grow.

This is a good thing. It means that veterans across the country are realizing that there is help available, and are reaching out. There is much more work to be done.

THIS MENTAL Health Awareness Month, remind veterans in your community that their mental health is as important as their physical well-being and encourage veterans who may be going through a tough time to get the help they need, because every step forward is another step closer to living healthier, more satisfying lives.

(The writer is the deputy chief consultant for specialty mental health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.)

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