When describing veterans, words like strong, brave and selfless come to mind. These words are apt, but only tell part of the story. Veterans can face the same life struggles as non-veterans, as well as unique challenges that go hand-in-hand with military service. Deployments and being in war zones are known to raise the risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or substance abuse. Yet, the Veterans Administration (VA) estimates that up to half of veterans with mental health conditions do not get needed care.
The VA has been focusing on providing mental health care to vets, including giving them better access to private mental health providers. Unity Psychiatric Care here in Huntsville treats many veterans, offering both inpatient and outpatient care.
“Helping our veterans heal and enjoy better mental health is the right thing to do,” says Dr. Donald Klasing, a board-certified psychiatrist and medical director at Unity Psychiatric Care. “It’s also a privilege to give back to those who’ve served our country.”
As a veteran himself, Dr. Klasing connects with veteran patients by drawing on his experiences in the Navy. He understands their values and life experiences. He also has seen first-hand the barriers that prevent veterans, both young and old, from seeking out care.
Too many veterans with mental symptoms avoid reaching out to health-care professionals because of the stigma around seeking psychiatric care. The military culture can stoke fears of seeming weak or trigger feelings of embarrassment about service-related mental effects. There’s also a lack of awareness among vets and their families about mental health treatment options available in their communities.
“Ignoring mental health symptoms or delaying treatment can have tragic consequences,” says Dr. Klasing. Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die from suicide than non-vets, according to a 2019 VA report.
Long after veterans leave the armed forces, the military experiences can affect their mental health in unexpected ways. Elderly vets with dementia, for instance, may revert to a military mindset that causes behaviors that lead to family conflicts. Unity Psychiatric Care helps these families by treating the veteran with respect and compassion, while also educating family members about how to create a stable home environment.
Dr. Klasing says veterans dealing with mental health issues don’t need to suffer in silence. Effective treatments are more accessible than ever. Personalized, evidence-based care can restore mental health or reduce symptoms so veterans can enjoy life again.