This month is Mental Health Month, so we sat down the Department of Veterans Affairs' Director of Innovation and Collaboration for the VA's Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Dr. Wendy Tenhula. The good doctor was very outgoing in explaining how to spot trouble signs of mental health issues and answering our podcast listeners' burning questions about the use of recreational drugs to treat PTSD.
The VA healthcare system is the largest in the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest cabinet-level office in the U.S. government — just behind the Pentagon.
Those of us who require the services of the VA healthcare system know that navigating it can be a daunting task. Do you need a psychiatrist or a psychologist? What's the difference between the two? Which is better for your situation? Do you have to take drugs? Do I even have a choice?
The answer to the last question may surprise you: yes, you do.
But first it's important to realize if you have a mental health condition. Or perhaps you see problems in a loved one that didn't exist before their deployment or separation from the military. It's harder to recognize a mental health condition than it is to recognize a physical condition. Everyone is different and the unique ways in which we internally respond to external problems makes it difficult to categorize ourselves. How do you know when you have a mental health issue and when you're just having a bad day?
"If it's getting in the way of your life," says Dr. Tenhula. "Things like going to school, getting a job, maintaining relationships — then that's a clue that you may have a mental health condition. It's not necessarily a bad day."
If identifying that you have a problem is the first step, where do we go from there?
There are a number of specialized, professional counselors that can help with your specific condition. But where the VA has started truly innovating is through the use of peer specialists — veterans who have had mental health struggles of their own. They know, first-hand, what a returning veteran is going through and they know the system.
Mental health treatments can often take time and some individual sessions can make veterans feel worse than when they came in. Treatment for post-traumatic stress often requires painfully and honestly revisiting traumatic experiences — and that's hard. The VA's peer specialists are also there to keep vets from getting discouraged.
There is always more than one treatment option available and veterans have a choice to make — but it takes work, honesty, and a real partnership with your practitioner.
For more about the VA's renewed push to reach more veterans through Mental Health Month and its Make the Connection campaign, listen to this episode of WATM's Mandatory Fun podcast. Then, check out the Make the Connection website.
- Use your voice: Make a difference for Veterans during Mental Health Awareness Month
- Newsmaker: Mental health resources for military veterans
- Mental health means a stronger you
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About Mandatory Fun
Mandatory Fun is hosted by:
- Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor
- Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer