Today, there are many effective ways to treat psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression. But, who do we turn to when people living with mental illness are reluctant to seek help?

In my experience, people can be afraid to turn to others for help. It can be even more difficult to ask for help if you’ve been trained to be tough and resilient as the military branches do for recruits. Many military Veterans with lived experience of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may be reluctant to discuss their mental health issues head on.

When I was a 19-year old soldier, I was faced with the difficult task of seeking mental health care as I suddenly experienced the symptoms of schizophrenia. At first, I let the symptoms fester as I tried to self-manage them. But, my illness got worse as I tried to make myself better.

According to a study published by the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (June 2013), most Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) participants stated they were reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD early on to avoid the label of mental illness. The study indicated that combat Veterans best understood each other and that peer-based outreach programs may help Veterans engage in early treatment.

When I was discharged in 1987, there were not any peer-based support services available. You saw your psychiatrist and your social worker and were placed on medications. My recovery took years of treatment, medications, and self-discovery. If there were peer-based recovery support services, I may have recovered quicker.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to post-9/11 Veteran programs like Team Red, White, and Blue and the Adaptive Sports Program that I felt whole again. Through social bonding, mutual support, and physical exercise, I achieved positive results.

Military Veterans say no one should be left behind. When we see the alarming numbers of combat Veterans dying by suicide (according to the VA, 20 OEF/OIF Veterans die by suicide each day), the need for innovative mental health services becomes clear.

Peer support helps to break down the barriers so Veterans can seek the treatment from qualified mental health professionals.

For more information:

What are Peer Recovery Support Services?  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Center for PTSD. U.S. Veterans Administration

Peer Support Program helps veterans combat PTSD. Stanford Medicine.