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Identify, Intervene: Help Your Loved One with Mental Health Issues

A sailor embraces his wife and child before they board an aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jonathan Kulp)

This article is the first in a three-part series from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) on helping the loved ones of service members identify the signs of brain injury and mental health issues.

Preventing a problem is usually better than waiting for it to cause trouble, but prevention isn’t always possible. The next best thing is learning to identify the warning signs of a problem to get your loved one help right away. This is especially true when it comes to mental health.

Mental health issues come in many forms. People may struggle with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety, just to name a few. These warning signs can indicate problems with someone’s mental health:

  • Trouble remembering information
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Lack of interest in activities or daily tasks
  • Increased irritability or bouts of anger
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Crying or staring off into space
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent trembling
  • Frequent headaches

If you think your loved one is experiencing a mental health issue, the next step is to help them find health care.

Talking to someone about seeking help for their mental health can be challenging, especially for those PDF: returning from deployment. They may be embarrassed, think that they can deal with their issue alone, or think that the problem will just go away. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs set up the free program “Coaching into Care” for caregivers trying to help their loved one seek support.

Remember the following tips as you discuss health care with your loved one:

  • Let them know you care – Express an interest in how your loved one is feeling. Tell them that you want to know about their experiences, and listen if they decide to open up to you.
  • Don’t try to diagnose them – Educate yourself about possible mental health issues, but leave the diagnosis to qualified clinicians.
  • Encourage them to talk to others – Your loved one may benefit from talking about their experiences with others who have similar experiences.
  • Encourage them to seek help – Support any interest your loved one shows in getting help for their issues. The DCoE Outreach Center has resources for your loved ones to locate a health care provider.

Remember, you’re not in this alone. You and your loved one aren’t the first to experience mental health challenges. Susan shares her story on AfterDeployment about how she noticed her husband’s struggle with PTSD. The Real Warriors campaign also has a video specifically for families on how to deal with the reintegration.

The DCoE blog and the Real Warriors campaign have more resources for service members and their families working through mental health issues.

Prevention is Key!

Taking care of your mental health while supporting a loved one is crucial. In addition to discussing health care, these daily activity resources may help you and your loved one:


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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.