: Children and young adults who witness war, or other violent atrocities are at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses and, or negative habits such as drinking or drug abuse. This is especially dangerous considering many nations, including the US, often enlist and send young adults (18–26-year old’s) into active combat zones. This demographic is one of the most at risk for adverse side effects from their deployments and yet, very few seek adequate mental therapy or counseling.
Of the twenty replies I received every single one said they enlisted from 18-26 putting them exactly in my age range. All of them had been on active combat missions for at least one of their tours and all had been involved in active combat before the age of twenty-five. Two were still serving, though not as active combatants, one was serving in the reserves, the rest were retired. All twenty said they had been diagnosed with at least one form of mental illness. The most common were PTSD (20), mild or reoccurring depression (12), anxiety or other mental distress (9), previous or current substance abuse including alcohol, prescription medication, and, other (not specified) (10). All of the participant’s had two or more of the aforementioned distresses, suggesting that these symptoms developed /manifest in an interconnected way.
Although there is a clear need for a more focused approach to younger service members mental health very few seek it out. This is partially due to harsh stigma surrounding both mental illness and psychiatric intervention. When asked about seeking treatment for their PTSD and other symptoms all twenty participants said they had been provided access to therapy visits and all had gone at least once. However, only nine (9) said they had continued to go for long term treatment. While eleven (11) said they had stopped going after just a handful of visits. The reasons for lack of completion varied but, the most popular were not feeling listened to or respected, not believing their problems were extensive enough to receive help, and believing the sessions were not actually helping. These reasons for not seeking, or completing, psychiatric treatment are very concerning. They showcase a very large gap in understanding between the sufferers and those that should be treating them. The sheer amount of young adult soldiers not seeking treatment is also rather shocking. As not seeking treatment can lead to a worsening of current symptoms and gaining new symptoms.
: Soldiers who enlist and see combat at a younger age are more likely to develop severe, long-lasting, and compounding mental illnesses. They are also at a higher risk for comorbid alcohol and substance misuse. Despite the evidence that young adult veterans are the most in need of mental treatments and counseling less than half receive any. There is still a huge amount of stigma associated with needing/receiving mental support and therapy. We need to work to remove that stigma, especially the belief that needing help makes you ‘weak’, if we are going to create real lasting change in our soldier’s mental health. The other reasons given by young adult veterans for not completing, or seeking mental health treatment, also need to be carefully researched and talked about. In order to find strategies that would allow young adult veterans to feel more comfortable seeking treatment; and would allow mental health professionals to better treat them. If young adult veterans are going to continue to serve on the frontlines and experience traumatic repercussions from it, the least we can do is be there to help when they come home.
Faculty or Staff Sponsor: Dr. Krishnakali Majumdar
Author: Riley Asher-Stalbaum