May is Mental Health Awareness month, which provides us with an excellent opportunity to talk about a much-discussed, and often misunderstood, subject that affects all of us. More importantly than just talking, however, are the actions we can take to make a meaningful difference in our own mental health and the mental health of those we care most about.
As a society, we mistakenly talk about mental health in binary terms. Either someone has mental health issues or they don’t. If they have mental health issues, they are diagnosed, and their symptoms are treated with a combination of talk therapy and medication. The objective is to make people feel less bad, and success is defined as a meaningful (although often short-lived) reduction in their symptoms.
The truth about mental health is much different. We will all find ourselves at different points along the mental health continuum during the course of our lives. We will come to know trauma and triumph, success and struggle, pain and purpose. When we do struggle, we can do far better than just minimizing symptoms; we can learn how to grow, gain strength, and struggle well because of those challenges.
This is the approach we take at Boulder Crest Retreat, to great success. Our Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes) program is the first-ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate Post-traumatic Growth (PTG), and trains combat veterans to thrive, and live great lives – filled with passion, purpose, and service – in the aftermath of struggle and trauma. PTG is most simply explained in the words of Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
In 2018, in recognition of the innovation taking place at Boulder Crest, as well as the opportunity to learn from one another, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Boulder Crest signed a memorandum of understanding to work together in support of a comprehensive suicide prevention program. A key part of this effort is sharing language and understanding about Post traumatic Growth across the VA.
Approximately 125 Americans each day take their own lives and about 20 of them are military or Veteran personnel. Suicide is the only cause of death in the United States that is actually on the rise. Unfortunately, the traditional mental health approach is proving ineffective or inaccessible for far too many people – particularly those within the military and Veteran community. In part, it is because the current approach is based on a false notion: that traumatic experiences and times of struggle diminish us and our future, and that the best option is to accept that the remainder of our lives are destined to be filled with less joy, connection, growth. We know there is a better way – and are grateful for the opportunity to work across VA to share this new, innovative, and effective approach.
The idea that struggle is inevitable and valuable is baked into the life of every Warrior. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides, an Athenian General during the Peloponnesian War, said “We must remember that one man is much the same as another, and that he is best who is trained in the severest school.” The severest school is combat.
Our combat veterans represent the strongest and best among us. They deserve much better than the status quo and every day, the VA and Boulder Crest are working together to help combat this epidemic of suicide, because we know that no one can do this alone. Each of us has the opportunity – and responsibility – to step up, support others, and understand the signs of struggle. We can and must do better. Together we can. Join the movement and #BeThere!
This article was written by Ken Falke, Chairman and founder of Boulder Crest. Mr. Falke is a 21-year combat veteran of the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community and retired Master Chief Petty Officer.