Afghanistan Veterans Struggling With Mental Health

A recent survey found 70% of Afghanistan veterans have struggled with their mental health since serving.

Approximately, 775,000 US Armed Services members served at least 1 deployment in Afghanistan; a new survey of 1250 of these veterans found that 70% of them have struggled with their mental health since serving in Afghanistan.

“Trauma can alter how people think about themselves, others, and the world,” said clinical counselor Danny Taylor, MA. “The current situation in Afghanistan is a painful reminder of the traumatic experiences service members may have had in Afghanistan. This can lead to ideas that nothing is safe, and no one can be trusted.”

According to the survey, 75% of Afghanistan veterans are experiencing new or worsening symptoms of depression, 74% have new or worsening outbursts of anger, 64% have new or worsening thoughts of suicide, and 58% have started or increased drug and/or alcohol use.

Additionally, a third of veterans with a history of mental illness have started seeing a mental health professional since the Taliban retook Afghanistan in mid-August.

Holly Schiff, PsyD, believes the decline in veteran mental health may be triggered by feelings of powerlessness or fear about the situation in Afghanistan: “Veterans are usually looking for meaning and how the conflict ends definitely holds some significance. These individuals made enormous sacrifices and the fall of Afghanistan had them reflect on if everything they did was worth it. This can lead to feelings of depression and anger.”

The fall of Afghanistan may also be triggering new or worsening thoughts of suicide in 64% of veterans coping with mental illness. Researchers reported 32% are experiencing new thoughts of suicide, while another 32% indicate their suicidal thoughts have grown worse in the past few weeks.

“I have absolutely seen an increase in patients who are veterans since the fall of Afghanistan,” Schiff said further. “This makes sense given the fact that this situation may trigger unresolved issues or past traumas that they now have to address and deal with all over again.”

“The fall of Afghanistan definitely triggered some mental health issues for Afghan vets, some of which will have potential long-term effects and consequences,” Schiff told Psychiatric TimesTM. “For those veterans already struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder, the fall of Afghanistan brought back up some unresolved issues for them, past traumas and some unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They now have to address these and almost re-process them for a second time.”

PTSD is an endless war, but the current events just made it worse,” she added. “They may feel anxious, depressed, angry, helpless, frustrated, and sometimes even experience suicidal ideation. Longer-term, some of these veterans may feel like some old wounds were re-opened with this event and it will take them some time to recover and process the range of emotions that they are now feeling. In reaction to the events in Afghanistan, veterans may feel like they need to expect or prepare for the worst. This can have long-lasting impacts as it may alter their behavior and moving forward, they may become overly vigilant, guarded and become preoccupied by danger.”

To see more on Afghanistan’s impact on mental health, check out Psychiatrists Concerned With the Afghanistan Situation: Ethical and Practical Issues.

Have ideas on how to best serve the veteran mental health community? Share with us PTEditor@MMHGroup.com.

Reference

1. Following Taliban takeover, 9 in 10 Afghanistan vets have exacerbated mental health symptoms. Online Therapy. Accessed September 8, 2021. https://www.onlinetherapy.com/taliban-takeover-exacerbates-vets-mental-health-symptoms/