By Amanda Mitchell, AFC®
This morning as I walked outside to walk my dog, I took in a deep breath of cool, crisp air. Fall? Is that you? September showed up and brought a bit of relief from the stifling Virginia humidity, and I am here for it! September brings so many warm feelings and marks the eve of Peppermint Mocha season (sorry, pumpkin spice lovers, I am solidly on Team Peppermint). But I want to talk about something a little more serious, which is Suicide Prevention Month.
As members of the military community, we all know someone touched by mental health struggles or have been there ourselves. Unfortunately, this crazy and unpredictable life can take a toll. I have seen countless friends struggle. I have struggled myself. There was a split second where we thought I would not be able to join my husband in Germany because I had sought help for postpartum depression for over six months, and the base we were going to was strapped for resources. While I understand the reasoning behind not sending family members to places where they cannot receive the care they need, it can also cause family members and service members alike to suffer in silence because of a fear of complications that could result from seeking help. Suffering in silence is a concept that has plagued the military community for decades. And I have to applaud the military for its efforts in addressing this issue. In the last five years, I have seen so much change in how mental health is approached not only by healthcare teams but also by chains of command. In September, there is always a big push to bring awareness, and service members often complete briefs and training surrounding mental health and recognizing someone in a crisis. Sure, a PowerPoint presentation effectively brings the subject to the forefront of someone’s thoughts, but I am always left with the thought of how do I really inspire change and help those around me?
Recognize that everyone has their own story. Listen to it.
When approaching mental health, it can be easy to default to the thinking that since everyone is in the military, it must be something directly related to the job causing it. While struggles of military life can cause a lot of stress, this is not always the case. Take the time to listen to those around you. Sometimes someone taking the time to listen genuinely can make all the difference. Be the change. Show others that suffering in silence is not necessary because there are those that are willing to listen in a non-judgmental way.
Understand the money and mental health loop.
Working in the personal finance realm, I learned a lot of interesting facts about the psychology of money. Our finances are an integral piece of our foundations as people. If you’re standing on a rickety foundation, the rest of you is likely to be a little shaky as well. Studies have shown a deep connection between money and mental health. One usually exacerbates the other. Did you know that those with higher debt are more likely to smoke and drink excessively? One study found that 23% of suicides were attributable to debt! That shocked me when I read it and further reinforced the importance of having access to financial resources. Money issues are not only correctable; they are preventable. A bit of financial education can strengthen foundations to support service members and their families so that they can grow in other areas. Ways you can support the financial health of those around you:
- Don’t make it weird. This is my life’s mantra. So many complications can be avoided if we just refuse to make situations weird for the other person. Simply acknowledging an issue and just getting someone to the help they need without intertwining your own emotions makes things so much easier for you and the person in need. It eliminates the “shame factor” and instead promotes problem-solving.
- Integrate financial wellness into your unit. Have discussions. The taboo surrounding talking about finances is a difficult hurdle. But the more normal you make discussions about finance, the smaller that taboo becomes.
Know Your Resources.
Lending an ear to listen is important, but sometimes the best way to help someone is to know where they can find professional help.
- Military OneSource
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Your installation’s community service office: find a helpful search tool here.
- Your installation’s behavioral health office.
- Financial professionals: find an accredited financial professional here.
- Suicide prevention hotline: 800-273-8255
Mental health is an issue that we all must tackle together. Leave no one behind is canon on the battlefield, so too it should be in our fight for mental wellbeing. Be brave and seek help for yourself. Bring others along with you on the journey to healing. Be the change you want to see.