The University of Maine observed Veteran’s Week from Nov. 9 through Nov. 13, and hosted a variety of events to bring awareness and appreciation to the veteran community at the university. In one event that happened on Nov. 12, undergraduate researcher and veteran Teagan Lapiere presented his work on veteran psychology. The fourth-year psychology student recently received the Susan J. Hunter award for his research on veteran mental health and suicide.
The event began with introductions from Tony Llerena, the associate director of veterans services on campus. Lapiere then went through an overview of the presentation, thanking his mentor, associate professor of psychology, Mollie Reuben.
The presenter noted that isolation contributes to the mental health struggles of veterans. Lapiere also explained that PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, is not present exclusively in combat-deployed veterans, and can be caused by other traumas not related to combat.
Lapiere’s presentation featured an explanation of the interpersonal theory of suicide, which posits that there are three key factors linked to the causes of suicide. These are: a sense of thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and acquired capability. These three factors are also heavily integrated into the psychology of veterans returning from deployment.
Lapiere then presented statistics on the leading causes of death amongst members of the military, which showed that between 2006 and 2017, 16% of deaths were from soldiers killed in action, while 23% of deaths were caused by suicides. Studies also showed that veterans were at the greatest risk of suicide within three years after leaving service, with the rate of non-combat-deployed veterans being 33.1% and combat-deployed veterans at 29.7% within the first three years.
Another study conducted between 2001 and 2007 showed that veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan were at a higher risk of suicide compared to the general American population. This study showed that combat-deployed veterans were at a 41% higher risk, and non-combat deployed veterans were at a 61% higher risk of dying by suicide than the general U.S. population.
The study which Lapiere conducted involved a survey titled the warrior identity scale, which assessed multiple aspects of mental health, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, social support, and life satisfaction. One of the biggest indicators of sucide risk in veterans came from decreased social support.
Lapiere concluded his portion of the presentation by addressing the question, “What can you do?”
“Never let a veteran fall into social isolation,” Lapiere said. Having a good system of support can cultivate better mental health among veterans who may otherwise feel isolated.
Lapiere then showed a video from a TED talk featuring Ron Self, who spoke to the importance of brotherhood in the military.
“There is no greater loss than a brother,” Self said in his presentation at the TEDxSanQuentin talk. He went on to elaborate on the importance of these bonds formed by military service, and how isolating the return to civilian life can be.
This opened the conversation to the idea of how quickly veterans are released back to civilian life, with very little turnaround time, or reintroduction to society. Llerena noted that UMaine has a Green Zone Training program to assist veterans by talking about their experiences transitioning back to civilian life. He also spoke to the importance of having a network of fellow veterans to speak with, and the importance of embracing veterans as a part of this community.
There are around 250 student veterans on campus at UMaine. During this period of great isolation, Llerena and Lapiere encouraged the community to reach out to any veterans we may know.