Mental Health After Deployment: What to Know and Where to Get Help

Returning home from deployment can be challenging in a variety of ways for service members. Not only will they be adjusting to a new routine, but they may also be wrestling with strong feelings from their experiences while deployed. While some combat and operational stress reactions are common and usually heal with time, other reactions may require professional attention. By recognizing the warning signs and knowing how to get help, you and your service member can become more resilient in the face of reintegration challenges.

Signs that service members may need help

Understanding the signs and symptoms of serious mental and behavioral health issues – like post-traumatic stress, combat and operational stress, depression and substance abuse – can help at-risk service members access the support they need.

Post-traumatic stress

Post-traumatic stress can happen when an individual experiences or witnesses a traumatic event such as military combat, terrorist incidents or serious accidents. Although the symptoms of post-traumatic stress are normal reactions to trauma, they may be an indication of a disorder if they do not go away with time or become worse. Post-traumatic stress can be treated successfully, so it’s important to know the common symptoms and get professional help if needed. Signs of post-traumatic stress may include:

  • Repeatedly thinking about an event
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Extreme mood instability
  • Being constantly alert or on guard
  • Feelings of depression, hopelessness and numbness
  • Difficulty with personal relationships
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Distorted negative beliefs and expectations of oneself or the world

Read Recognizing the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to learn more.

Combat and Operational Stress

Combat and operational stress may be present after a service member experiences trauma or simply after the daily stressors associated with deployment. Regardless of the severity, seeking professional assistance for combat and operational stress as early as possible can help speed up the recovery process. Common symptoms of stress reactions, illnesses and injuries include:

  • Anxiety, irritability and excessive fear or worry
  • Difficulty maintaining mental focus and performing daily activities
  • Difficulty sleeping, recurrent nightmares and troubling memories or flashbacks
  • Uncharacteristic panic attacks and outbursts of rage
  • Changes in personality, behavior and unusual concern for beliefs or moral values
  • Withdrawal from social or recreational activities
  • Physical illness (e.g., headaches, stomach pains, back problems)
  • Serious suicidal or homicidal thoughts

Read Getting Help for Combat Stress to learn more.

Depression and Suicide Prevention

Depression can happen to anyone – resulting in long-term feelings that affect an individual’s mood and daily activities. Service members may be facing challenges during reintegration that seem completely overwhelming, but understanding the warning signs for depression and suicide can help you intervene and get the them the help that they need. Signs to be aware of include:

  • A range of emotions and changes in personality, including repeated and intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness or pessimism
  • A loss of interest in life or hobbies and prolonged periods of crying or sleeping
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal from friends and family
  • Displays of emotional distress in online activity
  • Excessive feelings of guilt, shame or a sense of failure
  • Physical symptoms like weight loss or weight gain, decreased energy, headaches, digestive issues or back pain
  • Talking about dying or seeking information about death

Read Suicide – The Essentials to learn more.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is the excessive use of any mood-altering substance, including alcohol, legal and illegal drugs. It can be triggered by a number of factors including separation from family, trauma or daily stressors. Key indicators of substance abuse include:

  • Decreased energy, loss of appetite and inattention to personal hygiene or dress
  • Irritability, agitation, mood swings, anxiety and depression
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses and blackouts
  • Financial difficulties, trouble with the law or poor work performance due to excessive alcohol and drug use
  • Relationship problems, including physical abuse and domestic violence
  • Denial of a substance abuse problem and spending more time doing activities involving alcohol and drugs

Read Substance Abuse and Addiction- The Essentials to learn more.

Where to Get Help

If you or someone you know is dealing with behavioral or mental health issues, it’s important to seek help. There are a variety of mental health resources and services available including:

Not sure where to start? Military OneSource can provide referrals to services in your community. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat.