Veteran talks about removing stigma around PTSD, mental health

·4 min read

Jul. 9—DICKINSON, N.D. — Although mental and physical health are often viewed as being separate aspects of general well-being, the reality is that the mind and body are actually very closely linked to overall health.

Christopher Deery, the Veteran Services Director for Cass County, North Dakota, shared his personal struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and highlighted the importance of seeking mental health treatment.

"In October of 2005, 2,600 of us from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, were called to serve and trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi before embarking on 16 months of combat operations in central and southern Iraq," Deery said. "Twenty-three men in the 1st Brigade never made it back home, like I did, to American soil ...."

Deery's combat operations in Iraq witnessed him be personally exposed to many of the horrors of war, leaving him with invisible wounds when he returned to North Dakota.

With the stigma around mental illness, and PTSD in particular, promoting stereotypes that depict people with PTSD as dangerous, unpredictable, incompetent or to blame for their illness has led many to avoid mental health services. With the increasing incidence of suicide and suicide attempts among returning veterans, concerns about depression prompted Deery to disregard the stigma and seek a mental health assessment.

Deery noted that while PTSD can be common, seeking mental health help is not.

"I've been very open with my struggles and continued work on my PTSD and self," Deery said, noting that going through a traumatic event is not restricted to only veterans.

According to the National Center for PTSD, at least half of Americans have had a traumatic event in their lives and approximately 1 in 10 men and 3 in 10 women will develop PTSD.

Many people who have prolonged untreated PTSD often will develop other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse.

According to the 2020 North Dakota Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, nearly 1 in 10 men had not seen a doctor in the last five years for physical, mental health screenings or preventative care.

Per the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Vital Records, men have higher rates of death from cancer, diabetes, heart disease and suicide. The life expectancy for North Dakota men is 7 years less than women, and this gap widens even more for certain populations — including those suffering from PTSD.

North Dakotans who suffer from PTSD may repeatedly re-experience their ordeal as nightmares, flashbacks or frightening thoughts, especially when exposed to events that remind them of their original trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They also may experience overanxious watchfulness or a tendency to withdraw or avoid situations and people that remind them of their traumatic experience.

"Recognizing that you have symptoms of PTSD and reaching out for treatment is a sign of strength," Deery said.

Individuals seeking free or low-cost counseling can find publicly-funded mental health services designed to provide affordable care that often includes therapy or counseling services.

While state-based programs are not for everyone, they're often a great place to start if you face geographic or financial barriers to therapy. Intake specialists at community mental health programs can help you learn whether you qualify for state-funded services. Even those who do not meet the threshold to qualify for free services can often receive referrals to other low-cost local programs that can meet mental health needs.

North Dakota 211 is a free referral and information helpline that connects people to a wide range of health and human services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To contact 211 in any state, including North Dakota, simply dial the numbers 211 from any phone.

For more information about resources available, visit The North Dakota Department of Human Services' Behavioral Health Division at

behavioralhealth.nd.gov.

North Dakota veterans seeking assistance can visit any VA Medical Center. All centers offer PTSD treatment, even if there is no specific PTSD program. Veterans are asked to contact their local VA Medical Center and ask for the Mental Health clinic. Many Vet Centers and VA Community Based Outpatient Clinics also offer PTSD treatment.

Veterans seeking immediate assistance should call 1 — 800 — 273 — TALK/8255, and press 1.