The works in this series will always be the opinion of the writer (me, Rebecca). Therapy and healing is not a one-size-fits-all box, so keep that in mind when reading. Everything in this series will come from my experiences both as a therapist and patient. I hope it gives you insight into different perspectives, and gives me a place to share thoughts on topics I feel are important. Enjoy!
NOTE: This post discusses military life, PTSD, violence, and related mental health problems. If that may be triggering to you, there's nothing wrong with not reading it.
On this Veterans Day I want to take time to recognize our veterans and talk a little about some of the mental health struggles they face. I know that for some this topic may bring up some negative feelings, whether due to personal beliefs, personal experiences, or something else. So my plan is to lay the reading out in a way that starts with the negatives of the military, then offer some understanding insights and end on a positive note. If you disagree with anything that is said I respect that, and I go into writing this knowing I may upset some people. Remember it is written from my perspective, out of the truth I know.
I also want to emphasize that when I critique the military as an institution, I am not critiquing each individual servicemember. It is possible to acknowledge the downsides of the military as a whole and still support those who serve, especially knowing how many of them didn’t know what they were getting into.
The military as a whole institution is a homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, conservative, (and so much more), heternormative toxic masculinity-spreading machine. When training to get into the military, you are taught to shut down all emotions and not allow yourself to feel anything. You are also taught to do whatever you're told without thinking or questioning it.
Because of this, being in the military can be very isolating and othering. Because military housing exists only on bases that you have to have a special ID to get onto, it creates a sense of “us vs them”. There are the military people and then the nonmilitary people, and the attitudes between them can be very negative.
We cannot forget about the disruption that comes from moving every few years, as this only furthers the othering. Moving so often is hard on everyone involved, and it creates a sense that you cannot always get close to people. Yes, there are positives to it, and yet those don’t take away from the hardness of moving constantly.
With all of that said, it’s like “why join the military”? Well, some reasons are the positives that I will get into, but also, a lot of individuals feel they have no choice. At 18 it’s either go to college or what— fail life? A lot of us are not ready at 18 for college and so many choose the military instead, because they see it as a way to find their career and be able to live on their own. Some individuals are also forced into the military due to family expectations. And many individuals feel that, economically, the military is their only option to be able to support themselves. There are other reasons too, but I think these are the top ones.
One of the benefits of being in the military is the room for growth. Often when many think of the military they only think of war and killing, because the military markets itself that way, but honestly there is so much more to it then that. In the military you can learn to become a doctor, a veterinarian, a mechanic, an intelligence analyst, a therapist, and so many other things. All of these things without getting into overwhelming student loan debt.
Another benefit, if it is taken, is being able to save money for the future because a lot of expenses are taken care of for you. Some find this annoying, while others take the perk and make the most of it. Either way it can be a bonus.
Also, free medical care! That is a great perk of the military, although it could use some fixing. Still, not having to pay the thousands of dollars every month just to make sure your health, both physical and mental, is taken care of is nice.
With all of this being said, let's take a moment to think about how our military keeps us safe. There is a lot of information that we do not know that these individuals handle behind the scenes. The work that military members do can be very dangerous, and we cannot forget that. It is also good to keep in mind that there are times when the information shared is presented in a more negative light than the reality of it, and vice versa.
Even if you hold the belief of “they know what they signed up for,” I want to challenge that. There is a big misconception that people know what the details of the job when they sign up. It’s not true. We know some of the details, but the reality is usually very different. It helps to keep that in mind when thinking about military: they probably didn’t know they were going to have to do some of what they did while in service.
Even with all the training they get, there are plenty of situations that still cause mental health struggles for these individuals. And all too often these individuals struggle without help because of the stigma that they face. This stigma comes from many places, but especially the military itself, which doesn’t like to acknowledge mental health struggles in its members. I’ve worked with veterans, active duty members, and reservists, and I’ve heard some stories that can shake you to the core. I want to say that they were not prepared for reality and they need to have a safe space to explore the traumas they suffered. With all the negative stigma against them it makes it hard for veterans and their families to feel safe talking about their traumatic experiences.
At the end of the day, most military members are just normal people who happen to have a job that creates chaos in their lives. There are other jobs like this, but because of their nature, those jobs tend to be easier to address struggles in. I want to encourage everyone to stop and think about your own views and beliefs and ask yourself if you feel you can support the person without supporting the institution. On average,18 veterans commit suicide every day. If we can work together to let our veterans know they are not alone out there, maybe we can lower that number.
I am not asking you to become best friends with these individuals. However, can you just say “thank you” to them for what they have done? Or maybe show some kind of appreciation to them for what they gave up to help this country.
Again, I want to say there is a lot of stigma about the military. Some of it is very true and negative, and I will not argue that. Some of it is also very wrong, and if we take the time to learn the reality, it may help us shift the overall stigma to make things better in the future.
On this Veterans Day I want to say thank you to all the veterans out there. We do not have to agree on everything to be respectful and thankful for all that you veterans have done! I wish you all have a wonderful day!
Do you have questions about Veterans Day or anything I said in the post? Other thoughts to share? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).