Many local veterans face significant mental health challenges. We reached out to Cheri Alvarez, chief program officer at Compeer, one of Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition’s founding members, to learn more.
Q: What are some mental health issues faced by veterans?
The mental health issues faced by veterans include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) substance abuse disorders and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Q: How does Compeer serve veterans and members of the military?
CompeerCORPS is an extension of the Compeer traditional model that offers one to one mentoring to military veterans striving for good mental health. Veterans in CompeerCORPS are matched with another service member so that they are supported by someone who understands their struggles. Compeer staff members screen volunteers, provide in-depth training and then help to select and create a friendship connection. The matched individuals are supported every step of the way.
CompeerCORPS volunteers and their veteran matches spend at least four hours together each month, participating in activities they both enjoy. Compeer offers monthly social activities for all program participants, whether they are matched with a volunteer or waiting for a match.
Q: Can you describe the symptoms of PTSD?
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, loss of interest in things they used to care about and alcohol and drug abuse. An individual diagnosed with PTSD may feel upset by things that remind them of what happened, have vivid memories or flashbacks of the event that make them feel like it’s happening all over again and feel emotionally cut off from others.
Q: Do issues differ between younger and older veterans?
Although different generations experience different wars and different views on the various wars, all veterans are at risk for PTSD, depression and TBI. From talking to veterans from different generations, they say that getting together and talking about their times in the service and recreating the camaraderie they had in the service are very important to their mental health.
Q: What are the reasons this segment of the population may not seek help?
Stigma, personal embarrassment about service-related mental illness, long wait times to receive mental health treatment, fear of being seen as weak, a lack of understanding or lack of awareness about mental health problems and treatment options.
Q: How can family members be supportive?
Family members can be supportive by listening to the veteran, being patient, seeking out mental health counseling (for the veteran and the family) and building a network of support. Family members can also take a Mental Health First Aid class to learn skills to help someone if they’re having mental health problems and learn about local resources.