Mental health in veterans is crisis across Arizona

PHOENIX - The tragedy in California is highlighting the mental health care crisis prevalent all over the nation, including here in Arizona.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 people is considered necessary to provide minimally adequate treatment for individuals with severe mental illness. Like every state, Arizona fails to meet this minimum standard with 302 beds, that is just 4.4 beds for every 100,000 people.

Staff at the Phoenix VA healthcare systems said despite the shortage of beds, Arizona and the military had made great strides in addressing mental health care, and opening up a community dialogue of removing the stigma associated with mental health care.

The Phoenix VA had a mental healthcare walk-in clinic for veterans who needed help, along with an emergency room that was open 24-7 all year long.

Sadly, updated numbers released by the CDC show suicide rates up by 30%.  

Veterans are also still more likely than civilians to die by suicide.

Deborah Dominick, the chief social worker at the Phoenix VA healthcare system said there is a reason so many veterans and military service members were hesitant to ask for help.

"They are protectors themselves, that has been my experience. They feel I am the one who takes care of everyone or everything, and it's difficult to ask for help. We want to change that conversation to the bravery behind asking for help," said Dominick.

Jim Sapp, a licensed counselor at the Scottsdale Recovery Center is not only a veteran himself, but he had spent a chunk of his career treating veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress.

"The military is a different world, it's a very black and white world. Out here in the civilian world, it's not so black and white. It's gray," said Sapp.

He added that those who lived a life of service were used to taking orders, even when the mission didn't match their morals, and when they got back to civilian life, sometimes that caught up with them.  

Seeing comrades lose limbs or die in combat, seeing children strapped with explosive devices targeting US soldiers getting hurt, and not knowing when they would come up on an improvised explosive device themselves haunted many of them years after coming home from combat.

"They see a bottle on the road or a bag on the road, they think it's an IED," said Sapp.

He added that the best thing a loved one could do is to let them know it was okay to talk about their experience, there was no shame in seeking help, and it would help relieve them of the distress and mental anguish they felt.

In extreme cases, there are ways to get involuntary treatment for those facing a mental health crisis. You could petition a court to make a person seek treatment, but you would need to provide proof that they were a danger to themselves or others.  

In cases where a person in crisis was making statements indicating they would harm themselves or others, Dominick advised you to call 911.  

A mental health crisis team could conduct a welfare check and if deemed necessary, place the person in a 72 hour medical watch, where they would be in a safe place in the care of professionals.

If you are a veteran or civilian who needs help here are some resources:

https://www.phoenix.va.gov/patients/Crisis_Prevention.asp

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is showing any of the above warning signs, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support from an experienced, caring VA responder 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If you are not a veteran you coach seek help at https://www.nami.org/ or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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