Moses Maddox, Dr. Wendy Tenhula

Department of Veterans Affairs

Campaign Urges Veterans To Get Mental Health Care If They Need It

May 03, 2018 - 8:41 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a campaign to urge veterans to get help for if they need it.

The campaign is called “Mental Health Means a Stronger You.” It aims to reshape the perceptions and treatment by outlining the success stories of vets who have reached out for mental health support.

WCBS 880 Producer Neil A. Carousso talked about the campaign this week with Marine Corps veteran Moses Maddox – now veterans retention counselor at California State University San Marcos – and Dr. Wendy Tenhula, director of innovation and collaboration at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It is part of the “Make a Connection” program, the VA’s ongoing national mental health outreach effort.

“While the conversation for mental health has gotten better, there’s still this stigma that, you know, either you’re weak or you’re crazy – a variety of things that people say when it comes to seeking, you know, mental health, that frankly just aren’t true, and that treatment is something that should be thought out, and that recovery can be achieved as long as you take your treatment seriously and as long as you actually go out there and seek that help,” Maddox said.

Maddox said some veterans might not seek out mental health care because of the stigma, some are concerned that it might limit their employment opportunities, and some don’t want to admit they need help because they feel like they can go through anything after having gone to war.

“And then they come home, and something as simple as a college class is extremely difficult because they’re cycling through things,” Maddox said. “So there’s a variety of reasons why people don’t go seek help, and this movement that we’re trying to do; this message is to say, ‘Hey, OK, people have been there before. We’ve gone through it. You’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up and get that help.”

Tenhula said the “Make a Connection” program was launched a few years ago “to raise awareness about mental health conditions and to inform veterans, as well as their family members and other loved ones, as well as their country at large, that mental health conditions are treatable.”

She said hundreds of veterans have come forward and talked about their own difficulties, the treatments they have received, and how those treatments have made a difference.

“There are effective treatments available, and that recovery is possible,” Tenhula said.

Maddox said there are many factors that go into an effective mental health care treatment program.

“One is having a really good counselor who is very honest about the process; who told me that some days are going to be better than others; that there’s going to be sessions where I might leave the session feeling worse than when I started, but it was all part of the process,” he said.

He added that the first step is just to get help and understand that doing so can be scary and stressful – particularly since a therapist will start out as a stranger to whom a veteran is assigned.

“But keep in mind that it is OK; that it is a process, and you have to stick with it. There’s going to be days where it’s incredibly difficult. There’s going to be times when it’s going to be hard to go out of bed, and there’s always an excuse; a reason not to go. You have to not listen to that,” Maddox said. “Once you take that first step, you have to follow through, and those stressors tend to go away once you get comfortable with the process; once you start to see little incremental changes.”

The VA has also expanded the methods veterans can use to access mental health care, Tenhula said

“We’ve expanded the use of telehealth for mental health conditions, so a veteran can be in one location, and their doctor or therapist can be in another location, and they can work together using video conferencing technology. VA also has a number of mental health-related mobile phone apps,” she said.

Maddox’s message for other veterans was that he has an idea of what they’re going through – and he said veterans like openness, honesty, and frankness.

“It’s natural. But you’re not weak for going to seek out mental health treatment, and in fact, saying that I do need help is a great sign of strength, and that’s what we really encourage,” Maddox said.