Sometimes the deadliest and most dangerous battle fought is the war within. That’s precisely the case for the thousands of men and women serving in the military and veterans returning from combat. It’s truly disturbing to know that presently more veterans die from suicide than from combat.
While it’s a tragedy itself knowing that the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have been alarmingly on the rise in the past decade, the epidemic of suicide gripping our nation is felt most by those in the armed forces. Veterans are twice as more likely to die from suicide than non-veterans. While the veterans’ suicide rate has spiked in all age groups, men 18 to 34—who have fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—are at the greatest risk.
As someone who lost a family member to suicide when I was young, I know all too well the pain and grief it leaves for those who have lost a loved one in this way. Our society first needs to recognize that mental illness is just as deadly and real as a physical illness. While the scars of the soul might not be as visible as the loss of a limb, depression and trauma equally impact our brain, body, and being. While medication and therapy prove beneficial for those dealing with PTSD and depression, the greatest battle many who contemplate or die from suicide face is the inner war of the soul.
The first line of defense for those gripped in the turmoil of their war within is to remove the stigma and shame that society tends to hold around mental illness and behavioral disorders. Many who endure mental illness can often view it as a moral failure or that they need to “tough it out” on their own.
As I mention in my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain, humans evolved as social creatures driven for contact and connection. Isolation and internalization can often be two insurmountable hurdles that many face. Seeking help and reaching out is the first step, but we also need to let those facing trauma and depression know that they’re not alone.
As we honor all the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom on this Memorial Day and as we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, everyone one of us has a role to play to help heal those battling the war within.