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12 Eye-Opening Veterans Mental Health Statistics

By Blog

The mental health state of veterans has become increasingly important as the US gets further embroiled in a series of unending wars across the globe. We want to know how much of an effect this state of constant war has on our service members.

As such, we’re going to take a look at some of the key veterans mental health statistics. We will investigate its prevalence rates in a range of conditions, its causes, how it impacts their lives, and much more.

However, it’s important to be aware that mental health still comes with a stigma, especially in the military, where individuals are trained to be reliable and resilient. That said, some of the stats will come with important caveats.

In any case, it’s crucial to understand the following stats about veterans with mental illness.  Read on to learn more facts that are often shocking and illuminating.

Vital Veterans’ Mental Health Statistics in 2019

  • During 2018, around 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program
  • Only 50% of returning vets will receive the mental health treatment they need
  • Up to 16.3% of veterans suffer from symptoms of depression
  • Up to 20% of veterans suffer from PTSD
  • Over half of women who use VA health care have experienced sexual harassment
  • Nearly one in five veterans reporting major depression or PTSD have experienced a traumatic brain injury
  • 25% of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of substance abuse disorder
  • 50% of veterans experience significant difficulties reintegrating with society

1. During 2018, around 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program.

One of the most important veterans mental health facts outlining the sheer size and scope of the current mental health crisis is the number of people who sought care through the VA mental health specialty program. Over 1.7 million veterans, out of 18 million total in the US, sought mental health care.

This means that almost one in ten veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program during 2018.

It’s also worth noting that nearly as many sought treatment by private means. While we don’t have precise numbers on how many veterans with mental illness seek private treatment, it’s a mistake to assume that this stat alone shows how prevalent veterans mental disorders really are.

2. Only 50% of returning vets will receive the mental health treatment they need.

How many veterans suffer from mental illness? From the stats above, it might be easy to assume that it’s one in ten. However, other stats show that it isn’t as cut and dry as that.

A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that half of the vets returning from active duty who required mental health treatment will not receive it. 

To learn more about specific issues worth addressing, let’s take a look at some veterans depression stats next.

3. Up to 16.3% of veterans suffer from symptoms of depression.

A study into the prevalence of depression in veterans found that 12.3% were diagnosed with depression during the 2011-2012 period. However, an additional 4% of veterans mentioned suffering symptoms that are considered characteristic of depression.

This includes 16.3% that mentioned feeling tired or having little energy for more than half the week. Another 15% reported having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much nearly every day or more than 50% of days.

Both 12% of veterans reporting depression and 16.3% of them experiencing symptoms of depression are above the 7.1% threshold of the general population who have experienced depressive episodes in the US, as reported by veterans mental health statistics.

4. Depression is nearly 30% more prevalent in female veterans than it was in 2008.

According to studies, female veterans show a general increasing prevalence in depression, increasing from 9% in the 2007-2008 study to 14.8% in the 2015-2016 cycle. It’s uncertain whether the discrepancy between the sexes is due to female veterans experiencing depression more often, or simply seeking diagnosis and reporting it more often than men.

Depression amongst veterans is slightly higher than it is amongst the general population. However, the following PTSD in veterans facts show additional worrying situation.

5. Up to 20% of veterans suffer from PTSD.

The percentage of veterans with PTSD differs depending on where they served. The current stats show that PTSD was reported in one million vets of the Vietnam war, or 15% of men

and 27% of women. Reports indicate levels between 9% to 24% amongst veterans of the Persian Gulf War, and 9% to 31% amongst veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In regards to military PTSD facts, there are several factors that may shed light on experiences that are more likely to lead to PTSD.

6. 95% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffered PTSD were shot at.

Veterans mental health statistics show that the majority of soldiers who experienced PTSD experienced some sort of traumatic combat situation. More precisely, 95% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were shot at, 94.5% had seen dead bodies, 92% were ambushed or assaulted, and 86.5% know someone who was severely injured or killed.

PTSD and other mental health problems are often caused or exacerbated by traumatic situations. However, other surveys have shown that these situations are not always combat-related by definition.

7. Over half of the women who use VA health care have experienced sexual harassment.

Around 55% of women and 38% of men who have sought VA health reported experiencing sexual harassment in the military. As such, the problem of sexual harassment may also be causing the increased prevalence of mental health issues, such as PTSD and depression amongst veterans.

8. Nearly one in five veterans reporting major depression or PTSD have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

One of the military PTSD facts that is being explored in much greater depth is PTSD’s relationship with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Around 19.5% of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who experienced major depression or PTSD also experienced a TBI at some point. Stats from the New England Journal of Medicine also showed that people who suffered a TBI were over twice as likely to experience PTSD later in their life.

Coming up, we take a look at how veterans mental health issues are related to their lifestyles outside of the military service.

9. 25% of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of substance abuse disorder.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in four vets from Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of substance abuse disorder, hinting to a greater prevalence of the condition amongst them even if they aren’t officially diagnosed as such.

Another study also shows that both active-duty military personnel and veterans abused prescription drugs at twice the rate of the civilian population in 2008.

10. Veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide compared to civilians.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that returning veterans statistics are underreported. As mentioned, 50% of veterans who need mental health treatment won’t receive it. But the rate of suicides amongst military veterans also calls the reporting of mental health issues facing veterans into question.

About 30 in 100,000 veterans across 48 states commit suicide. This is more than double the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000 people. Furthermore, one in five suicides across the nation (18-20%) is committed by a veteran.

This stat indicates that we need more mental health care for veterans, but also that we must address the challenges of accurate reporting of veteran facts and statistics.

11. 50% of veterans experience significant difficulties reintegrating with society.

While not directly linked to veterans mental disorders, there is no doubt that the circumstances outside the military can also have an impact on mental health. As such, it’s worth noting that half of all veterans who come back home have trouble acclimating.

Veterans can have trouble reconnecting with loved ones, coping with physical injuries, and finding their role in everyday economic and social life. As such, this can lead to social impairment, marital dysfunction, substance abuse, violent behavior, and job instability. That said, it is clear that veterans need more help finding their place in society after repeat exposure to traumatic situations.

12. Over 5% of veterans who experienced anxiety or PTSD have experienced homelessness.

The rate of homelessness amongst veterans is 3.7% over a five year period, according to the latest veterans mental health stats. While that might not sound like a high number, that’s over 30 times higher than the general population. Only 0.17% of the entire US population is homeless, showing just how much more at risk veterans are.

Approximately 5.6% of veterans who were referred to anxiety or PTSD clinics had experienced homelessness in the past year. Furthermore, veterans diagnosed with a drug use disorder are more than twice as likely to become homeless.

Bottom Line

The above veterans mental health stats have hopefully shed some light on the prevalence of different conditions such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. Furthermore, we have discussed causal and corollary facts, such as brain injuries, combat stress, traumatic situations, and sexual harassment. 

Yet, some of the most important stats we have mentioned highlight the issues that veterans have after they come back home. Clearly, half of our veterans aren’t getting the help they need, and we see the increased rates of homelessness, substance abuse, loneliness, and suicide.

It is clear that many of us have underestimated the mental health crisis amongst our veterans. As you could deduce from the above-discussed veterans mental health statistics, not only is it more prevalent than many think, but it’s also much more underreported than we would like. To help veterans get the help they need, we clearly must approach the question of mental illness in both veterans and active-duty members more seriously.

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