When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle. It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable.

According to an investigation by the American Medical Association, veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have reported high rates of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol use disorders. Tragically, these problems often go unreported or misdiagnosed.

That’s why every May, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month to educate people about mental health challenges and treatment options and to make sure people know that recovery is possible.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions

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People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently, and it can be difficult to tell if you or your loved ones are affected by a mental illness. Here are some common signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling very sad or nervous
  • Headaches or other physical pain
  • Anger
  • Lacking energy, motivation or interests
  • Problems functioning at home, work or school
  • Problems with attention, concentration or memory
  • Changes in sleep, appetite, weight or intimate activities
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness
  • Unhealthy behaviors, such as misusing drugs, alcohol, food or excessive spending to cope with stress
  • Muscle tension and weakness

How to Seek Help If Needed

As the largest single provider of mental health care in the country, the VA offers a wide range of specialty services, including services for older veterans such as:

  • VA Community Living Centers (CLCs) for veterans needing temporary assisted care until they can return home or find placement in a nursing home;
  • Home-based primary care that includes a mental health professional as part of the team providing care to veterans in their homes;
  • Screening for dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease and/or other problems that interfere with memory; and
  • Assessments that help decide whether the veteran can safely live at home and make informed medical decisions.

Recently, the VA expanded its mental health services to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. According to an investigation by NPR and Colorado Public Radio, since January 2009, the U.S. Army has “separated” 22,000 veterans diagnosed with mental illness or traumatic brain injury for alleged misconduct, leaving them without access to crucial health care benefits. This expansion grants these vulnerable veterans access to mental health programs.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms associated with mental health disorders, it’s important to talk with your health care provider to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it.

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