WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Active duty service members and veterans often face a number of barriers when it comes to seeking and receiving the mental health treatment they need.
A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that only 50 percent of veterans who need veteran mental health treatment receive these services.
Sean Douglas currently serves on Active Duty Status in the U.S. Air Force. He says he was raised in an alcohol-dominated violence household. When 9/11 occurred, he decided to join the Air Force.
He says that’s also when he started abusing alcohol and used it to cope with military life and his past unresolved childhood trauma. Following his divorce in 2008, he considered taking his own life but he got help from friends, family and mental health professionals.
From 2009-2013, he became a Drill Instructor for Air Force Basic Training and in 2014 became a Master Resilience Trainer for the Military teaching mental, physical, social/emotional, and spiritual resilience skills designed to empower military service members to cope with the stresses of military life.
In 2016, he wrote his first book on the topic, and in 2017, started a LIVE online radio show, Life Transformation Radio, and delivered a TEDx talk. Today, he speaks to a variety of audiences about mental illness with the goal of preventing suicides.
Douglas says one reason veterans don’t seek mental health treatment is due to pride.
“We come back from overseas, we come back from deployments, we’re trying to reintegrate with our families and there are bonds that are formed,” he said. “We’re better equipped with our friends and family than maybe talking with a therapist, we think that maybe it will impact our career in some way even though we’re told it won’t, we don’t want anyone to know that’s what we’re facing.”
Despite a person’s outward physical appearance, Douglas says you never know what someone is battling with internally.
“You never know what someone is carrying around with them,” Douglas said. “We see and do things that a lot of people never understand and so we come back and we’re focused on reintegration but we still have these things that we can’t talk about.”
Douglas says one of the tragic realities of mental illness is that a veteran who served for 20 years has a life expectancy of about 5 years.
“When you retire from the military, you get out, you lose that bond, you lose that camaraderie and so you’re searching for purpose, searching for passion, what’s our next battlefield, what are we going to do next?” Douglas said. “A lot of people get out and say ‘I don’t know what to do.'”
For veterans transitioning from a rigid, disciplined military life to civilian life, the struggle can be extremely difficult.
“Our day in the military is scheduled 100 percent, you know when to show up, what to do, you know when to go home, everything is done for you, it’s told to you,” he said. “When you get out of the military — you’re so happy the first couple of months — but then you’re like, I don’t know what to do, I don’t have a mission, I don’t have something to get up for and push towards.”
If you are a veteran struggling with feelings of isolation, loneliness or a lack of purpose, Douglas recommends reaching out to another veteran in your community as well as seeking professional help.
“Reach out to the suicide hotline, there is always someone available to love and care about you,” Douglas said.
The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 and may be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1). You can also text 838255. Support for deaf and heard of hearing is 1-800-799-4889.