I'm Listening: Putting the spotlight on mental health for our nation's veterans

'We don't have to keep that bottled in and struggle alone'
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As part of Audacy’s I’m Listening initiative, representatives from the Home Base Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project joined us this month to share valuable resources for veterans and validate that struggling does not equal defeat.

LISTEN NOW: Brigadier General (Ret.) Jack Hammond

To address the heightened rate of veteran suicides, Audacy’s David O’Leary interviewed two major non-profit organizations that aid veterans with all wounds, whether physical, emotional, or mental. Brigadier General (Ret.) Jack Hammond, on behalf of Home Base Veteran and Family Care, began by acknowledging that the hardest step in a veteran’s mental health journey may be knowing when help is truly needed. Referencing his own training, Hammond said, “If you're hurt, you have to suck it up. If you are injured, you require medical attention. And too often people confuse the two when it comes to mental health.” He continued, “Where there's no physical injury that's visible, people assume a mental health issue, you're just a little bit hurt. And you're not injured. So that goes on for a little bit, and when it doesn't get better, it does get worse. And the longer you deal with it without treating it or responding to it, the more problems you have.”

In particular, Hammond believes that a veteran’s over-familiarity with what he calls “no failure situations” makes them more prone to barrel through any mental health struggles without seeking help. “That's kind of our mantra, right? Never accept defeat, failure is not an option” he noted. “So on a personal side, when you're not able to cope with something, you're not able to overcome it, it feels like a failure. And nobody wants to admit defeat on that.”

LISTEN NOW: Wounded Warrior Project

This trend to “power through” mental struggles was echoed by representatives of the Wounded Warrior Project in their own interview. “So I think veterans, when we think about individuals who are placed in continuously stressful situations… There's not an opportunity to talk about that in the moment,” said Dr. Erin Fletcher. “This is mission first. We need to stay safe. And we need to be able to come home. And so we think about again that kind of longstanding continuous exposure to stress, anxiety, isolation from friends and family.”

Retired Command Sergeant Major Tonya Oxendine completely agreed. “That's what we do. That's what we know that the military is to fight and win wars. And that's the mindset that we have.” That being said, she also noted that this "toughness" can quickly turn into self-sabotage. “I think when we transition, we're still in that mindset and not realizing that these things need to be talked about, that we need to develop new skills and discover new ways of learning and new ways of healing and to realize that there is help out there. We don't have to keep that bottled in and struggle alone.”

You can listen to both conversations in full at the links above. If you or a veteran you know is struggling, please refer to our list of further mental health resources. You are not alone; Home Base Veteran and Family Care, Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans Crisis Line, Vets4Warriors, Veterans Affairs Get Help, Veterans Affairs Mental Health Toolkit , Veteran Affairs Transition Training, Veteran Affairs on Mental Health.

Audacy's I’m Listening initiative aims to encourage those who are dealing with mental health issues to understand they are not alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, know that someone is always there. Additionally, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 988. Find a full list of additional resources here.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images