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Managing Your Mental Health after Leaving the Military

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As you transition from the military into civilian life, you’ll likely encounter several challenging adjustments, all of which are normal for veterans. Learn how best to manage your mental health after leaving the military by following these tips.

1.  Be Aware of Mental Health Concerns

According to a study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry in 2014, close to one out of four military active-duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. While serving in the military, there are three critical mental health concerns you are most likely to encounter.


Depression affects your mood, your ability to enjoy things like you once did, your energy level, your ability to focus, and your ability to make decisions. In some severe cases, having depression can lead people to consider taking their own lives.

If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by dialing 1-800-273-8255. Or choose to chat with a live representative, available all day, any day.

Know that having depression doesn’t make you weak, nor is it something you can simply “get over.” Depression is an illness that affects your mind, just like strep throat or the flu affects your body. Choose to treat depression as you would any other disease and get the proper help you need. This same mindset should be applied to all mental health conditions.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD occurs after individuals experience dangerous and traumatizing events. Symptoms include flashbacks, frightening thoughts, and bad dreams that interrupt one’s quality of life. Time in the military can certainly increase exposure to an array of dangerous events as well as trauma. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs places the current number of military veterans with PTSD at between 11-20%, differing somewhat based on which era the veteran served.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A TBI is caused by a blow to the head or penetrating injury like a gunshot wound. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, and memory loss. Being in the line of fire puts the military at a much higher risk for TBI.

2.  Talk to Someone

When you first return to civilian life, you might feel directionless, unsure of what to do with your day. As a service member, you had a specific purpose and mission: to keep your team and yourself safe. This is a difficult time of transition, and not just for you; nearly 30% of veterans find it a challenge to transition back to civilian life.

Maybe you’d like to move into a career in the federal or non-profit sector, but you’re uncertain of how to proceed. You might be unsure how to make the right connections or feel overwhelmed at the prospects of job applications. The good news is that help is out there. It’s just up to you to make the call and reach out.

Primary Care Physicians (PCP)

An excellent first step is to reach out to your PCP for an initial diagnosis. A PCP can provide a depression inventory and even prescribe antidepressant medicines if you and your doctor determine this is the best course of action. Your PCP can also make referrals to specialists if necessary in the case of PTSD or TBI.

Behavioral Health Specialist

If you and your doctor determine that a referral to a specialist would be a practical option, then you would likely see a behavioral specialist. Depending on your situation, your PCP might refer you to a psychiatrist, a medical doctor specializing in mental health. The psychiatrist might prescribe additional mental health-oriented medication that your PCP could not.

Your PCP might choose to refer you to a psychologist or social worker to work in therapy groups or one-on-one with a therapist. All specialists are professionals, have multiple years of training, and are licensed within the state they work.

Confidential Counselors

Another option you can pursue is reaching out to a counselor or therapist to guide you through this transition. Sometimes just having someone who will listen is all you need. Access free short-term confidential counseling through Military OneSource. When you begin your counseling sessions, consider bringing your family, as they can better learn to support you as you transition to civilian life. Your therapist can assist your family in understanding how best to create a supportive environment at home and how to improve communication skills between you and other family members.

Or consider using your counseling sessions to guide you through the process of moving into your next career. Your therapist can assist you as you prepare for the job search, helping you better understand your core values and identify an industry that’s the best choice for you.

It’s likely your counselor will encourage you to look for employers who are actively hiring veterans. This is always a wise choice, as veteran-friendly employers will be aware of any potential challenges you may face in your transition to civilian life. These employers will also be aware of the strengths you bring to your future careers, such as your leadership skills and ability to work under pressure.

Care for Your Health and Ease Your Transition to Civilian Life

When you prepare for your transition to civilian life, you brace yourself for the challenges the adjustment brings. Remember to always put yourself first and care for your mental health throughout the process. Reach out to your loved ones and ask for the support of a therapist. It is not a weakness. Instead, this strength will ease your transition to civilian life.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle and learning writer who talks about mental health, career development, and personal growth. Read more of her work on Classrooms, where she serves as Editor and contributing writer.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

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