Breaking down barriers: Veterans and mental health

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a Suicide Data Report that found an average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day. I learned this shocking and sobering statistic in 2016 while participating in a year-long leadership training series, Unbeatable Mind, which is run by former Navy Seal Mark Divine. He has since founded The Courage Foundation, a nonprofit that supports veterans by educating, equipping and empowering them to live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and restoring their sense of purpose, hope and connection.

During the leadership training, I got to know several men and women who actively serve our country and others who were veterans. It was through listening to their stories that I learned about the challenges veterans face. When soldiers retire from service, they leave behind a structured lifestyle in which they know what they are doing, when and why every day. Many of them lose this structure when they are out of the military, and for those who have faced traumatic experiences, they can often be overcome by that trauma. Others are dealing with injuries from combat, the stress related with them, and even addiction to pain medication.

What the men and women who have served our country are facing—at times, alone—is tragic, and we should do what we can to raise awareness of it and provide support and resources to help them. That is, in fact, one goal of The Courage Foundation, which has a 22 million burpee challenge to raise awareness and funds to support veterans in need. I have joined this challenge myself, committing to 25,000 burpees in 2018 (I am at 20,000 right now).

Many of our colleagues at Skanska are veterans who bravely served our country. While the construction industry is known for its “toughness,” no one should suffer in silence. It is important we help erase the stigma behind talking about our emotions and mental health. It is okay to reach out for help—and the tools and resources are in place through government programs and nonprofits to get that help. It is up to us to listen and pay attention to our co-workers and share this information if we recognize a need.

Resources for veterans:

• The Veterans Crisis Line can connect you with caring, qualified responders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are veterans themselves.
• Reach out to nonprofits committed to helping veterans. There are many organizations throughout the U.S. that support veterans, some can be found here.

What you can do to help veterans:

Support local and national nonprofits committed to helping veterans. While there are many organizations that support veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Voluntary service page is a great place to start.

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