Coming home at the end of military service can mean many different things to many different people — but regardless of one’s individual circumstances, it means a major life shift. Unfortunately, life shifts often come at a price, and for some, that price tends to be mental health.
Regardless of how you think you feel about ending your military service and returning home, you should take some precautions to bolster your mental health as much as you can. Here are a few tips for improving your civilian mental health in advance of military separation.
Find Your Veteran Community
Humans are social creatures. Studies on social isolation have found that a lack of sufficient socialization is devastating on the human body and mind; not only does social isolation often result in mental disorders like depression, but inadequate socialization can also cause physical conditions, like inflammation or an increased risk of tumors. You are more likely to feel comfortable sharing your experiences in military service with other vets, and the ability to share is critical for your mental and physical health.
Civilians often don’t know how to relate to veterans recently returned from service. As much as you might love and respect your civilian support system, it is critical that you find a veteran community upon your return home. There are a few services online that help vets in nearby areas meet in person, but you can also connect with vets online. You don’t necessarily need a support group, unless you feel bolstered by one; a few fellow ex-military buddies should keep your socialization meter full.
Connect With a Mental Health Expert
The worst time to schedule your first counseling appointment is after a mental health problem starts wreaking havoc on your life. You don’t need to wait to hit rock bottom before you seek help. In fact, as soon as you get home, you should try to connect with a mental health professional in your area; you might even look for telehealth options, like this online therapy in Illinois.
Regardless of whether you meet with a counselor or a psychiatrist, talking about mental health concerns with an expert will give you more tools to integrate successfully into civilian life. Plus, it gives you a safe space to talk about concerns or fears that you might be less interested in communicating with either your civilian friends and family or your veteran community. Even mentally healthy people can benefit from the occasional counseling session, so you might want to make a regular therapy appointment for the first few months after separation.
Open up Your Personality
The military is hardly a place tolerant to every minor feeling from every service member. You likely have been trained to quell your thoughts, opinions and emotions, which ostensibly helps the military to function as a more cohesive unit and accomplish tasks with success. In this way, military service changes a service member’s personality.
However, stifling yourself in this way is not mentally healthy for long periods, especially when you return to civilian life. You need to be willing to express yourself as an individual, which means showing the range of your emotions — not just those approved by the military. You also need to become comfortable expressing your thoughts and opinions in a manner considerate to those around you. Though this will come with practice, it might also be facilitated through counseling.
Give Yourself Time
One day you will be a service member of the military, and the next day you won’t be. The separation from the military happens so suddenly — but that doesn’t mean your mental transition from service member to civilian is supposed to happen in a day. You spent months preparing to be a functioning service member, and you need to give yourself even more time to accept and adapt to your new life role outside the military. The amount of time it will take for you to feel comfortable and confident as a civilian is totally subjective, dependent on your unique circumstances. You should take each day as it comes and use the tools and support available to you, so this major life shift can occur successfully at its own pace.
You are not guaranteed mental health, just as you are not guaranteed physical health. However, by taking the right steps, you can keep your brain and body healthy as you end your military service and become a civilian once again.