Veterans and Mental Illness

Each day, 22 veterans die by suicide. After returning from war, veterans often feel a loss of self-worth, facing issues with employment, readjustment, and disability. Naturally, veterans are at an increased risk for depression and other mental illnesses as a result of the events suffered while at war.


The National Alliance on Mental Health found that 1 in 3 veterans is diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. From the 2000-2007 assessment of records from 206,000 veterans, 41% were diagnosed with either a mental health or behavioral adjustment disorder.


An issue that may attribute to the high rates of mental illness is the readjustment veterans have to overcome when transitioning back to civilian life. The transition from combat solider to civilian can mean navigating new daily structures, concerns or abilities. It is common for veterans to feel isolated, without a sense of purpose, and as if no one understands their experiences.


The survival skills needed in war often cause readjustment behaviors. These include issues with:

  • Act first and think later responses
  • “All or nothing” or avoidance focus
  • Avoidance of closeness or intense relational emotions
  • Controlling and unsocial tendencies
  • Feelings of indifference and/or distrust
  • Giving orders to others or avoiding personal decisions
  • Hyperarousal (sensitivity to loud noises, crowds, light, etc.)
  • Quick temper or oversensitivity
  • Suspicious and paranoid
  • Unpredictable behavior


These behaviors can come with increased anxiety to family and themselves. They can also be indicators of a larger depressive or anxiety disorder.


For veterans, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts are closely linked. During military training, soldiers undergo desensitization to painful experiences and gain a lack of fear of events like suicide. It is less likely for veterans to ask for help and more likely they will act on suicidal thoughts.


Post-traumatic stress disorder regularly appears with at least one other psychiatric disorder. However, Symptoms of depression and PTSD often overlap. Both illnesses include signs of decreased interest in once enjoyed activities, irritability, sleep and concentration problems, limited emotional capability, and social isolation. In a 2009 study of veterans, those who screened positive for PTSD were more than four times more likely to have suicidal ideation to those veterans without PTSD.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for depression in veterans. This “talk treatment” allows the patient to form balanced thoughts about themselves, the world, and others. Over 75% of people being treated for depression with CBT show noticeable improvement.


Havenwood provides a comfortable outpatient facility for adults who need mental health counseling, including the treatment of PTSD. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder related to post-traumatic stress disorder, contact a treatment facility for help. To learn more about the breadth of services offered at Havenwood Behavioral Health, visit call us at (864) 660-6217. With proper treatment and support, you can overcome mental illness.