VA New Jersey Health Care System
Veteran recalls mental health recovery
One might wonder in today’s climate of inclusion and understanding, is talking about Mental Health among Veterans and service members still a taboo subject? One Veteran says that they shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about it.
“I think mental health is something that a lot of Veterans downplay the importance of,” said Bob Moran, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran.
Mental health is something that Veterans may cover up or state that it’s no longer an issue for them and that they can cope with anything, Moran said.
“In my experience, that’s not the case,” Moran said.
Moran graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1983 and served for five years.
In 2015, one of Moran’s friends recommended that he talk to a therapist.
“I went to the Lyons campus, I had a few meetings with the people at intake and then I was an outpatient. At that time, I was diagnosed with low-level depression,” Moran said.
It was only the beginning of his journey with mental health. In June of 2018, Moran called the National Veterans Crisis Line.
“I went to the emergency room at East Orange,” Moran said.
Moran was admitted to the inpatient mental health unit for two weeks and then went to the Domiciliary at the VA New Jersey Health Care System’s Lyons campus.
While recovering, Moran was exposed to the Whole Health curriculum said it was a very pleasant surprise.
“I took part in Yoga and Tai Chi and also the Whole Health 6-week introductory course,” Moran said. “It was very much an eastern sort of holistic way of looking at my life and myself as a person.”
Moran said that it helped him become better grounded and that it gave him the tools that he could use when he was feeling anxious or depressed.
Using those tools to actively work through symptoms or issues prior to an emotional or behavioral crisis episode is important, said Dr. Heather Shangold, Local Recovery Coordination for VA New Jersey Health Care System, Lyons campus.
“You can’t pick and choose your emotions. They are all useful and important, even the ones that are uncomfortable,” Shangold said. “They give us signs to help us stay healthy. Don’t ignore them, embrace them and if it’s too hard on your own, get help.”
Shangold said that people often confuse mental health with having mental health conditions.
“They also confuse having mental health conditions with being unhealthy. Being mentally healthy is equal to being physically healthy: you cannot have one without the other,” Shangold said.
People with mental health conditions can be just as mentally healthy as those without mental health conditions, Shangold said.
“Sometimes in life, symptoms of physical and mental health conditions affect our functioning and it’s important to seek treatment when this happens,” Shangold said. “The stigma associated with mental health conditions sometimes stops people from seeking treatment.”
Reinforcing the understanding that mental health is one of the keys to living a healthy life is important to emphasize to all Veterans, Shangold said.
“In all my years of working in a hospital, I have never seen anyone reject cancer treatment because of stigma or embarrassment,” Shangold observed.
Moran suggested that Veterans who might be hesitant in seeking mental health treatment, or who think they have nothing to talk about with a counselor, should go and talk about them about the things that they think they don’t have a problem with and have under control.
“It sounds counterintuitive, but if (Veterans) think that they don’t need to talk about their military service, combat or peacetime, (they should) just talk about it and practice telling a story, because it’ll help them to understand their service better and how important it is to them,” Moran said.
Moran said that telling his story has helped him and he hopes that others would be galvanized to seek care and to embark on a similar path to wellness that he has.“I wish they would ask what life was like before (seeking treatment), what happened, and what’s different now so it would give me an opportunity to tell them the story as it unfolded and for them to weigh for themselves if there’s been an appreciable difference. They might think that if it worked for Bob, it might work for me,” Moran said.