If there is anything that people have seen in recent weeks, it is that anxiety and depression does not discriminate. Not only does it hit the very happy and the wealthy, it also hits the middle and lower classes. In Canada, there has been greater focus on how anxiety and other mental health difficulties affect military personnel; there has been a spate of suicides that have occurred with the military over the last year that has caused great concerns for Canada’s military members.
Not only do military members experience a great deal of anxiety when they first enlist, simply because they are not totally sure what to expect in boot camp and in the first months of military life, there is also a great deal of anxiety when it comes to leaving the military after several years of service. Several military members experience some stress when they go to leave the military; the military life is all they have ever known for decades, or however long the initial contract was. It is as hard to re-integrate into the civilian world after years serving their country as it is to first enter the military world. It is important to realize that, in addition to experiencing the trauma of surviving combat zones, there’s the anxiety associated with simply moving from place to place, wondering if their family will settle into their new home after a move, or whether or not they will be deployed. If they are deployed, military members are constantly under stress, wondering how their families are doing while they are away, trying to survive combat zones, or what life will be like when they finally leave military service.
More often than not, there are three general terms that can be used to describe anxiety: fear, worry and stress. Too often, we all struggle with any one of these three emotions, but for military members in particular, this is particularly true. Unfortunately, the biggest issue is that military members carry with them a stigma where it would be deemed wrong for them to struggle with anxiety in general. If they admitted to struggling, that would be akin for many military members to admitting that they are weak.
Military personnel are, in many ways, no different than civilians. It should not be unacceptable for them to admit that they are feeling fear, or are worried, or are anxious. The biggest difference, of course, is that military members are called upon to be prepared to put their lives on the line with no guarantees that they will come home to their families in one piece. That can drive many military members, depending on the circumstance, into anxiety attacks, even when they move into the civilian realm.
Put simply, there is not enough support for military personnel when they need support for mental health problems. In fact, it would not be a far cry to say that there is still a great deal of stigma for these men and women in uniform to admit that they feel anxiety. To an extent, many in the military who do not deal with anxiety issues may look at their peers who do have anxiety with a degree of disdain and believe they have the modern day version of shellshock. Unfortunately, whether the member is still in the military or leaving, there is not enough support for these members of society. It’s easy for me to say, as the wife of a soon-to-be retired military member, that there needs to be greater mental health support for military members whether they are newly in the service or just leaving. However, with the numbers of military members struggling with anxiety, depression, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is important to recognize that this segment of society desperately needs more attention from mental health professionals. The bigger question, however, is whether the governments of North America are prepared to pony up the money to offer greater financial support for mental health care for our military members.
Opinion by Christina St-Jean
Kevlar for the Mind