Mental health resources for veterans

Connecting military veterans and service providers with mental health resources at Michigan State University Extension.

A soldier in a mask offering a hand to another soldier in a mask.
Photo: Army Pfc. Orion Oettel, U.S. Department of Defense.

Mental illnesses affect thinking, feeling and mood behavior. They include conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and are common in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five U.S. adults experience a mental illness each year. This number is higher among post-9/11 veterans, with over a quarter (28%) reporting to Veterans Affairs (VA) Mental Health Services in 2018 that they had received a mental health diagnosis within the past year. This difference is confirmed by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which notes that veterans have higher rates of suicide risk, opioid prescriptions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, compared to nonveterans. One reason for this may include exposure to traumatic events during military service. To address this, the VA offers mental health services and resources for veterans such as the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255), Women Veterans Call Center (1-855-VA-Women/1-855-829-6636) and My HealtheVet.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension also offers a wide range of health and wellness programs for veterans and the community at large to foster social, emotional and mental health. The latest 2021 report by Mental Health America ranks Michigan sixth best in the nation for adult access to mental health care and having less mental illness. This validates efforts by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) which sponsors numerous mental health initiatives statewide and also has a strategic plan to “engage and connect Veterans and Military families to mental health and substance abuse resources.” MSU Extension receives grant funding from MDHHS to provide a variety of health programs at no cost to diverse communities throughout Michigan. 

One such program, Stress Less with Mindfulness, with funding support from a State Opioid Response (SOR) grant, introduces mindfulness concepts and practices to reduce stress. This evidence-based program also helps prevent opioid misuse by providing alternative means for dealing with stress-related symptoms such as worry, depression and physical tension. Veteran-focused mindfulness series delivered by veteran program instructors and MSU Extension educators have been well received and can be provided to interested veteran partners upon request.

MSU Extension also partners with the National Council for Behavioral Health to provide Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) at a subsidized rate to Michiganders. The MHFA program is invaluable training for veterans, family members of veterans or veteran service organization. This program teaches participants how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and addresses topics including depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis and substance use disorders. MHFA emphasizes recovery and resiliency and provides the following action plan, referred to as “ALGEE,” to help trained Mental Health First Aiders effectively assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis:      

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm: Look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Listen nonjudgmentally: Use appropriate verbal and non-verbal skills.
  • Give reassurance and information: Provide beneficial resources to assist with emotional support.
  • Encourage appropriate professional help: Provide a variety of local and national resources.
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies: Offer helpful sources of support.

MSU Extension has been offering the MHFA course statewide since 2017. To date, over 650 people have been trained, most of whom (97%) report that, after completing the training, they can better recognize signs of a mental health crisis. A quick and effective response is critical for someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Members of MSU Extension's Veteran Outreach team were recently trained as MHFA instructors and plan to extend programming to veteran communities in 2021. To apply to partner with MSU Extension for a MHFA training, visit the MHFA website. For additional MSU Extension programs, explore the Virtual Events listing on the Remote Learning and Resources page.

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