VeteranAddiction.org, an information resource for military veterans and families dealing with addiction, conducted a survey among 3,000 veterans and found that over 1 in 3 (38%) Maryland veterans say this past year has been the most challenging year of their lives post-combat.
Nationally, the figure was 20%. Broken down, 21% of male veterans said this was the case compared to 18% of female veterans. A separate survey by VeteranAddiction.org found that 15% of veterans overall have been drinking more alcohol during the pandemic compared to previous years.
For already vulnerable veterans, the social disruption caused by the pandemic exacerbated many pre-existing concerns, including routine access to healthcare, access to pay and benefits earned through past military service, and, in terms of mental health, support for those affected by combat stress and/or PTSD. Those going through mental health struggles are also at substantial risk of developing or relapsing into a substance abuse disorder.
Often, when individuals with mental health conditions seek to distract themselves from their thoughts, substances, like alcohol are used. Paired with easy availability of alcohol during the pandemic, for example, this could be an added health risk for vulnerable veterans.
Moreover, for veterans struggling with mental health implications as a result of their experiences, interpersonal relationships can have a drastic effect on their overall well-being. Due to various mandates, directives, and other circumstances, these support systems and connections have been harder to maintain, which could trigger feelings of loneliness that consequently have a negative impact on their mental health.
A veteran’s mental health struggle can also take a toll on the mental health of loved ones and even affect family dynamics in general if the issue is particularly severe, and based on the past year, the potential of mental health concerns is not an isolated event: a study found that 6 in 10 military respondents said the Covid-19 pandemic has decreased their overall happiness significantly.
“There are plenty of dedicated online resources for veterans specifically, offering helpful coping mechanisms for making it through what has been a difficult time for many,” says Brittney Morse, MA, LAACC (a licensed advanced alcohol and drug counselor). “Interpersonal social and family relationships are also important to help maintain a strong level of support, and if the individual is struggling to reach out, these connections can help point them in the direction of expert medical advice.”