Tai Chi and yoga are parts of VA's Whole Health approach to wellness.
Mental health is still a taboo subject among veterans and service members — but it doesn't have to be, says U.S. Marine Corps veteran Bob Moran.
Moran, who went through his own journey of mental health recovery at VA New Jersey Health Care System, is sharing his experience in hopes of inspiring others to seek help.
"I think mental health is something that a lot of veterans downplay the importance of," he says.
According to Moran, veterans often cover up mental health issues or claim they can cope with anything. "In my experience, that's not the case."
Moran graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1983 and served for five years. In 2015, a friend recommended that he talk to a therapist. Moran became a VA outpatient with a diagnosis of low-level depression.
"If it worked for Bob, it might work for me."
That was only the beginning of his mental health journey. In June 2018, Moran called the National Veterans Crisis Line. "I went to the emergency room at East Orange," he recalls.
Moran was admitted to the VA New Jersey inpatient mental health unit and then spent time in the facility's residential treatment program. While there, he was introduced to the VA Whole Health curriculum, which turns traditional medical care on its head by focusing on the patient and what matters to them most rather than on a particular disease. It was a pleasant surprise.
"I took part in yoga and tai chi and also the Whole Health six-week introductory course," Moran says. "It was very much an eastern sort of holistic way of looking at my life and myself as a person." The new approach helped Moran become better grounded and gave him tools to use when feeling anxious or depressed.Veterans can use such tools to actively work through symptoms or issues before they become a crisis, says Dr. Heather Shangold, local recovery coordinator at VA New Jersey. "You can't pick and choose your emotions. They are all useful and important, even the ones that are uncomfortable. They give us signs to help us stay healthy. Don't ignore them, embrace them, and if it's too hard on your own, get help."
Dr. Heather Shangold.
Unfortunately, says Shangold, the stigma associated with mental health conditions sometimes stops people from seeking treatment — which is not the case with physical illness. "In all my years of working in a hospital, I have never seen anyone reject cancer treatment because of stigma or embarrassment."
Moran has a suggestion for veterans who are unsure whether to seek mental health treatment or think they have nothing to talk about with a counselor: talk about things you think you don't have a problem with and have under control. "It sounds counterintuitive, but [veterans should] just talk about it and practice telling a story because it'll help them to understand their service better and how important it is to them."
Moran says that telling his own story has helped him. He hopes other veterans will be encouraged to embark on their own paths to wellness. "They might think that 'if it worked for Bob, it might work for me.'"
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.