ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - New research from the Wounded Warrior Project found veterans with mental health challenges have seen their mental health worsen during the pandemic.
WWP surveyed nearly 30,000 warriors in 2020 and found veterans living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are more than three times as likely to have mental or physical health-related challenges during the pandemic.
Warriors living with depression, loneliness and suicidal ideations were also at an increased risk of mental or physical health-related challenges during the pandemic.
Anthony Johnson, who served 21 years in the Army and Navy, said his PTSD got worse in 2020.
"I would withdraw big time and… I didn't want to eat. I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I mean you don't feel any sense of purpose at all."
Johnson said not being able to physically connect with people played a big role in his symptoms getting worse last year. He said it was especially difficult when his WWP peer support group stopped meeting in-person. "I don't know what is, but being around other veterans, they took you out of that…You felt like you weren't alone."
Fifty-four percent of the warriors surveyed said their mental health has worsened since social distancing.
"The COVID-19 pandemic created a perfect storm for many of the warriors we serve, especially those with mental health challenges," said Dr. Melanie Mousseau, WWP vice president of program operations and partnerships. "A lack of social connection along with mental health conditions magnifies the burden warriors are experiencing."
WWP has worked to bridge the gap by holding more than 22,000 virtual and phone sessions for emotional support and follow-up on mental health workshops in 2020 from mid-March to mid-November. That represents a 10 percent increase over the previous eight-month period.
Johnson said the virtual peer support meetings are helping a lot. "It got back to… where I have something to look forward to. I look forward to the Zoom meeting. I look forward to the virtual games and just taking my mind off things, off the pandemic."
Despite the unprecedented times, most warriors reported having a strong support system to lean on. Eighty percent of warriors surveyed said there are people in their lives they can depend on if they really need it while 69 percent said they know where to turn for help with challenges related to COVID-19.
WWP said the study highlights prioritizing making mental health services more accessible. Veterans who need support can call the WWP Resource Center at 888-WWP-ALUM (997-2586) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about COVID-19's impact on wounded warriors click here.