Mental health among college students has been a popular topic among higher education professionals and academic researchers. For most traditional students, the transition to college life from high school can be tough. Newfound independence can be an advantage and disadvantage depending on the person. More than 60% of college students met criteria for at least one mental health problem during the 2020-2021 school year, which was defined by high COVID-19 rates leading to increased isolation and loneliness.
Student veterans are an especially vulnerable population on college campuses. The average ages of student veterans and traditional students leaves quite a significant gap between the two groups. This makes it harder for student veterans to make connections and friends on campus. Furthermore, student veterans often have additional responsibilities, such as spouses, children, and aging parents. These extra obligations can cause stress for student veterans on top of a heavy academic (and possibly professional) workload, which could result in a greater need for mental health services. Ultimately, it is essential to connect these students with resources that can help them more easily navigate their responsibilities while also succeeding at their schoolwork.
Popular Resources for Student Veterans
The increase in need for mental health services leads to many individuals not seeking care. For student veterans, there are many resources that are not available to the public. Military OneSource primarily connects active duty personnel and their families with resources, however, there is also a portion of the website dedicated specifically to Veterans Resources. While the plethora of resources may seem overwhelming at first, there are ways to narrow your search. Here are a few of the most popular resources for veterans seeking mental health services:
1) Give an Hour: This organization connects individuals to a local mental health clinic for a free, in-person counseling session. There are specific directories for those specializing in trauma-informed care and crisis management.
2) Patients Like Me: Partnering with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), this community connects people with similar experiences and provides peer-to-peer support.
3) Mission Reconnect: This evidence-based program uses mind and body therapies with veterans and their partners to support physical, mental, and relationship health.
Connecting to Local VAs
Making connections with local Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals can also be a huge help to veterans, especially those most recently in transition to civilian life, who are looking to navigate VA care. Many resources are also location-specific, so many health care professionals at these hospitals have answers to where veterans can find help where they live. Reaching out to social workers and psychologists at the VA may assist colleges and universities in finding new resources for student veterans.
Many veterans may be eligible to participate in research studies funded by the VA, which can also help connections with care within VA hospitals and within the surrounding community. The Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECC) at several VAs generates new knowledge to better serve future generations of veterans. The centers do this by applying new clinical programs and disseminating new information through education to improve the quality of veterans’ lives and their daily functioning while living with and recovering from mental illness.
Currently, one of the Department of Veterans Affairs top health care priorities is preventing veteran suicide. Most recent data notes that an average of 16.8 veterans a day ended their life by suicide in 2020. While the veteran suicide rate has been decreasing in recent years, it is still of utmost importance to further improve care for veterans and connect them with people that are professionally trained to help.
If you know of somebody that might be thinking of ending their life or at risk of suicide, please connect them with care. The Veterans Crisis Line is active 24/7 to help veterans that dial 988, then press 1. There is also an online chat service and a text line which veterans can reach by texting 838255. This service is available to veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve members, and those who support them.
Preparing for Next Year
Several existing articles on HigherEdMilitary point to ways that campuses can aid student veterans that may need help. Some key articles on our website include “Campus Veteran Mental Health Initiatives” by Qunnette McCoy and “Suicide Awareness: How to Help” by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer. While there are several outside resources that exist to wholly help veterans at times of risk, sometimes the most essential resource is the help of fellow student veterans. They can relate and connect through experience. Therefore, having strong communication channels and groups among student veterans on campus can help alleviate some stress on student veterans. The article “Effective Campus-wide Communication Channels for Student Veterans” by Suzane L. Bricker, M.A. speaks to how higher education professionals can ease the transition for student veterans and help them connect with their campuses more by reducing some of the stress brought on by offices on campus.
While there are many resources for student veterans, higher education professionals can help by being aware and showing compassion to stressors unique to student veterans, while providing these individuals with resources that can help them better succeed in school and in daily life.
If you or someone you know is thinking of ending their life, please call 988, then press 1 to connect with the Veterans Crisis Line.
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This article was originally published on HigherEdMilitary.