“I have a question,” asserted the group leader. “Has it been difficult for any of you to ask for help during your recovery?”
A group of male Veterans (who all suffer from substance abuse addictions) looked at the ground as one by one they muttered; “Yeah.”
One gentleman spoke up: “I was taught to never ask for help. You have no idea how shameful it was for me to admit that I have a problem, pack my bags, and come to a substance abuse recovery program after I had been the guy that so many people depended upon for such a long time. It took me almost 20 years to get treatment. I hate that it took me so long.”
The rest of the men all nodded in agreement: “I wish someone had told me that it was okay to ask for help, maybe I would not have hurt so many people in my life if I had gotten treatment sooner.” A somber mood was cast across the room, as each member reflected on their own journey of recovery.
And, sadly, too many Veterans are still under the impression that it is not acceptable to ask for mental health or behavioral health help. One study found that of one cohort of soldiers and marines surveyed, 731 of them “screened positively for a mental health problem.” When asked what prevented these 731 from seeking mental health help, 65 percent of them reported that they felt as though they would be considered “weak” and 59 percentu reported that “their unit might have less confidence in them.”
The Paradox of “Being Strong” and “Asking for Help”
Perhaps the most striking reason in putting off getting help has to do with the paradox the military faces “between the mentality of having the ‘right stuff’ and seeking help for problems related to reactions to combat,” including posttraumatic stress.
Even though the mental health problems associated with the battle have been generally experienced as shameful within the Veteran community, mental illnesses are not going away among this population as one study concluded, “It was found that being in combat was highly associated with generalized anxiety and major depression and that PTSD was significantly higher on return.”
In addition to this perceived stigma that mentally ill Veterans experience, “Adults who have gone through shocking experiences often appear incapable of putting them into words, or they are afraid to do so. This inability stands in the way of dealing healthfully with those experiences, and can lead to misunderstanding with the people in their environment,” as well as scare people away from seeking mental health services.”
Getting Help is a Courageous Move
And, thus, the Silent No More campaign was created by Boston VA Creative Expressions and Wellness Center (CEWC) in an attempt to address the concerns surrounding stigma and help frame the initiative to “get help” as a courageous one, rather than a shameful one.
The Silent No More campaign was born out of the idea that no Veteran should suffer in silence from a mental illness of any kind. The campaign is comprised of photographs of Veterans holding up signs of encouragement and the words they wished they heard when they were at a crossroads in their own lives, wondering if they should ask for the help they needed, which some perceived as weak, cowardly, and shameful.
It’s time to live out loud.
The Veterans featured in this poster campaign all voluntarily chose to showcase their words of encouragement for other Veterans who suffer from mental illness, urging them to receive the mental health help they deserve. The Silent No More campaign hopes to attract Veterans of all branches of service, ages, backgrounds, and mental illnesses to the VA for mental health treatment.
The campaign has been featured across the Boston VA Healthcare System, but the CEWC would like the campaign to be showcased nationally, in an attempt to attract Veterans from across the country to VA mental health services so that no Veteran has to suffer in silence. Their lives are too important, their accomplishments too great, and their stories too enthralling for them not to be shared with Veterans and civilians alike.
Veterans should be silent no more. It’s time to live out loud.
About the Authors: This post was written by The Creative Expressions and Wellness Center Veterans