6 Sources of Support, Right in Front of You
MAY 14, 2018 | 6-minute read
Mental health support can come in many forms. Whether treatment involves one-on-one counseling, support groups, or other forms of treatment such as medication, there are many paths to a stronger you.
In addition to getting treatment, making simple adjustments to your routine or lifestyle — such as pursuing a passion or getting involved in the community — can be fulfilling. Whether you are already receiving professional treatment or are simply looking for enrichment, these six sources of support can be helpful additions to your mental health routine.
Follow Your Interests
Sometimes the most effective treatments are the ones that you stumble across by chance.
Marie, a U.S. Army and Army National Guard Veteran, had nightmares and PTSD following the death of her squad leader during deployment. She sought out social situations to avoid thinking about the trauma, but even in crowds she felt alone.
Marie found her outlet in an unlikely place — the air. “I discovered the circus,” she says.
“There was a buy one, get one free intro class to flying trapeze,” she recalls. “The instant I jumped off that platform, I was hooked. I was like, I want to do this.”
Her new hobby allowed Marie to exercise her body and mind. It has become a foundational piece of her wellness practice. The progress she feels also gives her a sense of purpose, something she struggled to find early in her transition to civilian life.
“I figured out that I could do things that took a lot of adrenaline and [the] daredevil in me. And that’s been really, really helpful.”
Express Yourself Through Art
Coming home after three combat tours in Vietnam, Sarge felt like a different person: hypervigilant, prone to angry outbursts, and addicted to the adrenaline rush of combat.
Memory lapses impacted his ability to hold a steady job. Survivor’s guilt made it difficult to enjoy his life back home.
Sarge turned to writing to express what he couldn’t say. Putting pen to pad, he felt the pressure release, and the words flooded out.
“I started writing things down that I couldn’t even talk to [my wife] about,” says Sarge. “I was shocked … that it all came out rhyming.”
Poetry was the last thing this U.S. Army Veteran expected, but the writing, along with mental health treatment, helped him process his combat experience in a new way. And with the current of words came a new passion: music. “I began turning my poetry into blues songs,” he says.
Music has become a stabilizing force in his life. It allowed him to help fellow Veterans through sharing his art and his story. His music has reached thousands of people, Veteran and civilian alike.
“It’s the most beautiful medicine that I ever got for PTSD — having an audience really like what I’ve said and applause,” says Sarge.
Get Out Into Nature
After three of his fellow soldiers died in combat, Tony felt numb. His friends were gone, but somehow life kept moving along. “We took a day or two to kind of mourn the loss, and then it was right back to it,” says the U.S. Army National Guard Veteran.
When he returned home, Tony found it difficult to connect with people. He felt constantly on edge but didn’t share his emotions with others, which caused friction with the people in his life.
He found relief in counseling sessions and through helping other Veterans with their transition from the service. Now his favorite way to work through difficult feelings is to go out into nature.
“If I need to get away, I go to the outdoors,” says Tony. “It totally rejuvenates me.”
Spending time in nature can improve health and well-being. One study showed that walking through a natural area lowers blood pressure and stress levels. Another found that spending a weekend outdoors can improve sleep by resetting a person’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock.
Getting out to a local trail or park can help you slow down and tune in to the calming pace of the natural world.
Start a Mindfulness Practice
Ponce, a U.S. Navy Veteran, experienced combat throughout his career. The lingering stress from these missions grew into anxiety and depression. He had to take a leave of absence from work, and he attended therapy for a while, but he stopped therapy after returning to his job. His symptoms resumed shortly after that.
You think, OK, now I’m fixed and I’m good. I don’t need this therapy anymore, right? But you haven’t found a lot of those coping skills.Ponce, U.S. Navy Veteran
By returning to counseling, Ponce realized the importance of developing a daily practice to support his therapy sessions. Two activities that helped him were yoga and breathing work.
“I found myself wanting to try to minimize the medicines and learn tools to cope that were not medicine,” he says. “Five years ago, you couldn’t have told me that that type of mental health tool is available.”
Ponce learned to stop and take note of what was happening in his body. He could feel the physical sensations and relate them to the triggering thoughts. That helped him regain control of how he reacted to events.
“I’m able to say, ‘Wow, this is what’s going on,’” he says. “And then use the yoga techniques with the breath.”
Yoga and other forms of mindfulness practice can improve mental and physical well-being.
Participate in Church Groups
Josiah, a U.S. Army Veteran, was injured when an IED exploded during a routine foot patrol in Iraq. He began taking prescription opioids for the pain and quickly became addicted to them. He spent years misusing the drugs and isolating himself from his family and friends.
“Everyone around me obviously knew what was going on and didn’t know how to deal with it,” Josiah says. “I remember just thinking … ‘Is this really the life that you want for yourself?’”
Even after recovering from addiction and resuming a seemingly clean and healthy life, Josiah still experienced depression and suicidal thoughts. He decided to join a Veteran men’s group at his church. The support from those men became his rock — an anchor of stability against any storm.
“Doing service work in the community with those Veterans was kind of my first reintroduction back into society,” he recalls. “It was kind of my first glimpse into … thinking, ‘I'm OK in society.’ Like, ‘I do belong.’”
Religious or spiritual practice may not be the right fit for everybody. But those who find it helpful can seek out similar support groups at their places of worship or in their local communities.
Join a Student Veterans Organization
Ricardo returned from Iraq in a fog. “I didn’t know what was going on,” recalls the U.S. Army Veteran. “I went through a divorce. I went through a foreclosure. I moved back in with my parents.”
He battled depression, anxiety, and anger issues. Even with regular counseling sessions and medication, he still struggled to find a glimmer of light.
Then one of Ricardo’s counselors suggested he look into a Veterans program at the local university. “I threw myself into it,” he says. “I was volunteering when I wasn’t in class. I was hanging out and enjoying fellowship with my new companions.”
Ricardo found support and purpose being around other Veteran students. He became director of the Veterans Center on campus and president of the local Student Veterans of America club.
“That program changed my life,” he says.
Veterans returning to school can face a challenging adjustment. They may feel different than the rest of the student body due to their age, previous military responsibilities, or combat experience. Fortunately, most schools have services and clubs for Veterans. Contact the Veterans services department at your school to see how you can get involved.
Finding Your Sources of Support
It’s important to note that while these resources have been helpful for some people, everyone’s situation is different. Each resource is one tool in the toolbox for the path to recovery, and none of them should be a substitute for professional services.
By recognizing the sources of support right in front of us, we can take a step back from a difficult situation. We can become aware of the outlets available and take actions that create positive change in our lives.
“You gotta be proactive. You gotta do something about it,” says Steven, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran.
“As long as you keep seeing that light and keep going toward it, you always have something to motivate you … to keep going. You need to have that motivation.”