Suicide by Mental Health Awareness
We all want to raise awareness for Veterans and Mental Health Issues, especially around the month of November. But being aware of veteran’s homelessness and suicides is one thing, creating a culture that intercedes and restores the veterans to communities and families are another. Awareness does not equal action. I believe I have mentioned this before in some capacity, but in the event I haven’t awareness amounts to a person pointing at the problem and stating, “Look that’s a problem” and then that is it. The problem has been stated and no solution is offered or explored. No intervention is funded or began. It is simply awareness that the problem exists. Veterans long for the day that awareness ends and solutions begin, because until that happens the suicides will continue
There are several organizations that are taking action to turn the Canadian Veteran Community’s dream of belonging and understanding into a reality. There are several peer-supported home environments where veterans can heal from Mental Health or Operational Stress Injuries and transition to a meaningful life with their families and communities. What is unique about these groups are that they are based on live-in, peer-support, and the 24-hour presence of others who are also recovering and have encountered similar experiences in their transition. These projects have strong potential to contribute to suicide prevention and homelessness among the veteran population, and more important they are now talking to each other to find ways of supporting and combining their resources and successes. Although not all of these groups are fully operational or funded the ones presently talking to each other are; Warriors Landings Ontario, Rally Point Retreat Nova Scotia, Professional Insights British Columbia, W.O.L.F Academy Alberta, and Veterans House. I’ll speak more about each of these in the coming weeks ahead.
For years and even presently Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Operational Stress Injuries (OSI’s) are treated as mental illness even though research presented at The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research’s (CIM VHR) forum clearly shows that the physical damage to the brains Nero-pathways can be identified through brain scans. Most traumas are treated long term with rehabilitation therapies and short term with medications; where as PTSD and OSI’s are treated primarily as mental illness and an outpatient environment leading to difficulties with recovery specifically in relation to avoidance and non compliance issues. Suffers of PTSD and OSI’s spend years on medications with prolonged side effects and no exit strategy. Once they start this route they are expected to remain on it for life. No consideration to finding an alternative for medication is even in the foreseeable future from the clinical side of the house. In fact the most recent research from the mental health world is to increase therapies that will keep the sufferer on medications for a longer term in hopes that somehow the medication will solve the trauma and not just treat the symptoms.
Once medication and therapy have been administered the sufferer, is sent home. Back to where all the stresses of daily living that are crippling the individual remain in force, where they must deal with adversity and where they are expected to practice and master new skills on their own at the same time. They are then expected to report back on their progress and if they have done any home therapies assigned properly. In short the veterans are left on their own to self evaluated and report short comings and successes. There is no objective measure or standard in the self evaluation process that can be accredited to fact based peer reviewed research practices.
The model of these emerging Not For Profits is to provide a safe place to gain and practice new skills. Side by side with other veterans that have lived through the trauma and found successes themselves, veterans can emerge with confidence in their own ability to heal and grow. To be clear these groups do not treat, nor are they a treatment facility. It is however a safe environment for healing, supported with the firsthand experience of veterans that have gone through the process and succeeded, many of whom have shed their own dependence on medication. The presence of these veterans during the daily routines of recovering veterans adds that 24 hour accountability factor to deal directly with the non compliance and avoidance issues that prevent recovery. And perhaps even more important, rather then reinforcing PTSD as a mental health issue, it is viewed as it should be viewed. A life condition that requires retraining to gain new insights on moving forward and rebuilding life just like any other trauma that people experience.