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Military personnel, either active or retired, can face mental health issues. Whether they are deployed, stationed overseas or stateside, many can experience traumatic events. The stress of being deployed, seeing unimaginable acts, and the rigors of military life take a toll on a person’s well-being.

Mental health issues can occur for any person experiencing major life upheavals. Those in the military can face the added stress of readjusting to civilian life or a new culture. Treatment for mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or anxiety is vital for the well-being of those who were or are in the military. Stress can exist when active military personnel return from deployment, move to another base or retire. Coping with life changes or traumatic events can lead to unhealthy behaviors like substance addiction or, in some cases, an attempt to self-harm.

A Quick Guide to Mental Health Disorders

Not everyone knows the signs of mental health disorders like anxiety, PTSD or depression. Some can write off the symptoms as normal responses to what they have experienced. The following lists of symptoms can help identify and understand the signs of depression, anxiety or PTSD.

Depression consists of several symptoms, including:

  • Persistent sadness, feeling empty or an increase in anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling guilty
  • Physical ailments like headaches, cramps or digestive issues despite not having any evidence of sickness or response to treatment
  • Restlessness or difficulty being still
  • Thoughts of suicide, being dead or suicide attempts
  • Lack of interest in activities or hobbies

PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or saw a traumatic event. Some traumatic events are the death of a loved one, a terrorist act, sexual assault or war. PTSD occurs soon after an event and must last more than a month before it is diagnosed.  Some signs of PTSD are:

  • Recurring symptoms
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Disturbing thoughts
  • Avoidance symptoms
    • Staying away from reminders of the experience
    • Suppressing memories or feelings connected to the experience
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms
    • Angry outbursts
    • Easily startled
    • Being tense
    • Trouble sleeping
  • Cognitive and mood symptoms
    • Difficulty recalling essential sections of the event
    • Harmful feelings about the world or self
    • No longer interested in pleasurable activities

Due to the nature of the military, anxiety can occur. Some symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling edgy or restless
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle tension

Military personnel may hesitate in seeking mental health or substance addiction treatment because of the stigma attached. However, the benefits of treatment are numerous and can help address mental health or substance addiction issues.

Mental Health and Stigma

Mental health issues can carry a stigma. Often, the stigma is connected to fear or misunderstanding. For many years, active or retired military personnel were hesitant to seek mental health or substance addiction treatment because they feared the repercussions that might occur. In many cases, feelings of shame, guilt or the concern of their career being affected could prevent some individuals from entering a program. However, the military has recognized the benefits of mental health or substance addiction treatment. The United States Department of Defense has taken steps to let military personnel know that seeking help is a sign of strength and their career will not be affected.

Navy Captain Dr. Mike Colston, the director of mental health policy and oversight for the Department of Defense, says, “We absolutely need to get the word out that it’s almost impossible to lose your security clearance from endorsing a mental health history.”

Levels of Care

Treatment centers can accommodate military personnel’s need for privacy while they are on active duty. Entering mental health or substance addiction program does not mean leaving home. While some can benefit from residential treatment, not everyone qualifies for this level of care. Outpatient programs are available for those who do not need to receive 24/7 care. The levels of care are:

  • Residential Treatment
    • Residential treatment can last 30 or more days, depending on an individual’s needs. While they are in treatment, they will receive group, individual and family therapy sessions. In these sessions, the patient can learn coping skills. A comprehensive treatment center will offer holistic treatments like yoga, acupuncture, massage or art therapy. Many treatment centers are not currently offering all of their holistic treatments due to COVID-19.
  • Partial Hospitalization 
    • Partial hospitalization programs offer a high level of structured care to those living at home or are in sober living. Those who are in this type of program aren’t as restricted as those in residential treatment.
  • Weekend Programs
    • Weekend programs allow a patient to go to work during the week without disruption to their routine. On the weekends, they attend therapy sessions at a treatment facility.
  • Outpatient Programs
    • Patients receiving care in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or an outpatient program receive care in a treatment center that they attend during the day. IOP and outpatient programs are structured and more intense than continuing care programs. In either IOP or an outpatient program, patients usually attend the program three days a week and receive therapy.

Mental health or substance addiction programs are also offered to dependents of active or retired military personnel. Treatment for all family members is essential to the individuals’ overall well-being.


Casa Palmera is a nationally recognized subacute residential treatment center in Del Mar, California, offering drug rehabilitation and treatment for alcohol addiction, as well as treatment for mood disorders such as anxiety and trauma disorders. Casa Palmera is staffed with a diverse team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists who work together to help each patient move forward within a caring community. We design individualized treatment plans and apply a holistic approach in a world-class healing environment.


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Disclaimer: VEST content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.