Based on an interview with A.S. Minor, a Veteran, Speaker, Writer, and Mental Health Advocate
Why I Asked A.S. Minor For Tips on How to Help Veterans
We connected on LinkedIn when he commented on the blog post I wrote about why ignoring your mental health is the biggest mistake you can make. His veteran status reminded me of my little brother, who’s retiring after 20 years of service next year. I figured there’s a good chance you have friends or family that serve(d) in the military, and you might care about supporting their mental health. I looked him up and realized he is kind of a big deal, and he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to mental health struggles and learning how to thrive despite them. Thriving despite mental health challenges is a subject I’m passionate about, and work at helping others do, so I decided to message him to ask if I could interview him on how to help veterans that are friends or family. To my delight, he agreed!
Struggles with Transitioning to Civilian Life
Once upon a time, in the early 2000s when wars in the middle east were raging, Allen S. Minor enlisted in the Army and got his first set of dog tags. He never went to the middle east, but he served his country in ways most of us can’t imagine and don’t want to. In 2008, he found himself a civilian again and trying to acclimate to “normal” life. But, nothing about normal life felt normal. Finding work was not easy and he was living on his step-dad’s couch. He found himself sitting in bars, not to get drunk, but to be around noise and people and other distractions from his uncomfortable thoughts.
One night, as a way to get out of the house, he went to a poetry workshop for veterans held hours away from where he lived. He thought it would be good to connect with other vets who might understand what he felt. He didn’t realize it would change his life.
The Combat Hippie Era
The veteran poetry group ended up becoming a theater group coined “The Combat Hippies”. The group had a lot of success, and they even did a TED Talk.
But, the long commute to group rehearsals eventually became too much for A.S. Minor, so he ventured out as a solo speaker, writer, and spoken word performer about 6 years ago.
His Tips on How To Help Veterans
If you have a friend or family member that’s a veteran, here’s how you can help and support them during their transition back to civilian life and after, straight from the experience of A.S. Minor:
- Understand that they may not want to admit there’s a problem. They were programmed not to let mental or emotional matters get in their way during service and deployments. There might be a lot for them to face, and they might not be able to face it right away. Like all trauma, it takes time to be ready to heal, because the act of healing can be hard AF.
- Give them space. You spent a lot of time away from them when they were serving, so it’s natural to want lots of time with them now. But, they may need time alone and with other veterans who can understand what they’re going through in a way that you can’t. Please give it to them.
- Don’t be afraid of therapy. Your veteran is not programmed to think of therapy, but it can help. However, they are not the only ones that should think about therapy. Living with a veteran can be challenging, and therapy can give you a safe place to vent and get constructive guidance from a trained professional.
- They may reach out in disguise. Oftentimes, a cry for help won’t look obvious. It might be so subtle that even the vet doesn’t realize that’s what’s happening. A random phone call about “nothing” could be it. So, if at all possible, answer the phone and chat. See if you can get them to open up about anything, but if not, don’t force it. And, maybe randomly call your veterans once in a while.
- Lookout for warning signs. In his experience, the biggest red flag to look out for is alcoholism. Minor says too many veterans hide inside a bottle instead of dealing with their demons. Veteran suicide is a silent epidemic we should pay more attention to, so also watch for suicidal tendencies like these:
Two More Tips on How To Help Veterans
I asked A.S. Minor two more questions that I thought were crucial for friends and family to know about helping their loved ones who are veterans.
A: My therapist once suggested, “You cannot find the problem and the solution at the same time”. Arrange a time and place so both of you vent about your feelings and the other just listens. Then, wait a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on the immediacy of the issues, and arrange another discussion. At this one, you don’t talk about feelings anymore. You only talk about solutions and possible win-win compromises.
A: There’s a phrase that I found useful in these situations. “You are not alone”. Feeling like no one knows what you’re experiencing is lonely. It’s amazing how reassuring that simple phrase can be. If they talk about unaliving, recommended that they get professional help. You can give them the info in the above info-graphic if they don’t have a therapist they can reach out to.
Resources for Veterans
- Cohen Veterans Network
- K9s for Warriors
- Veterans Crisis Line
- Contact a Suicide Prevention Coordinator: Find Your Local VA
- Start the Conversation: Talking to a Veteran When You Are Concerned (PDF)
Thank you for reading about how to help veterans. It shows that you care.
Until Next Week,
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