This Veterans Day, Dr. Paul J. Harrigan, a veteran of the Marine Corps who has Army Reserve experience, can look at the mental health issues affecting veterans in a scientific, professional way.
But Harrigan can also look at it as a subject that hits close to home for him.
In his own life, Harrigan said that when he got back from his Iraq deployment, he began to notice that his sleep was disturbed, a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was fortunate," he said. At the time, he was working at the Miami VA.
"I said, 'Enough’s enough,' ” Harrigan said. “Taking care of ourselves sometimes takes a little effort.”
He was able to get help – and just as importantly, he was willing to admit he needed it.
"It did work out well,” Harrigan said. “The PTSD I cope with, I ended up accepting.”
Now, on Veterans Day, Harrigan hopes to help other fellow vets and will participate in a panel discussion about mental health issues and veterans.
The Facebook discussion will happen from noon to 1 p.m. It is called "The State of Stigma: How Trauma & Stigma Affect Veterans Across Generations," and is to be presented by the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition.
Harrigan, who is a supervisory psychologist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo, said he had hopes that observers watching the panel on Thursday would feel less isolated afterward.
“The main thing," Harrigan said, is convincing fellow veterans "they’re not alone."
And that applies to those who never served in the military, too. “We’re all a community; it would be the same thing,” Harrigan said.
Veterans can experience mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety and depression, he said.
PTSD is a condition that happens to people after they've gone through an event that is threatening, like disasters, accident or combat. Symptoms include constant flashbacks, sleep disorders and nightmares, and mental anxiety.
Studies done by the Department of Veterans Affairs vary depending on the conflict, but the data suggest between 12% and 30% of returning service members show signs of PTSD – and many soldiers never seek treatment for their unseen wounds.
“It's important for vets to get linked for care,” Harrigan said.
The word stigma is a strong one in connection with mental health.
But, Harrigan said, people may “may feel embarrassed to come talk to somebody.”
“If you have a concern, it takes strength to come and get help,” Harrigan said. “Sometimes talking about it in a safe environment goes a long way.”
Speaking as part of the Facebook discussion will be veteran Delcey Pulvino of the Buffalo Vet Center and veteran Alyssa Vasquez of the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY, as well as Vietnam veteran Max Donatelli.
Karl Shallowhorn of the Mental Health Advocates of WNY will lead the panel event.
The Facebook Live event is free, and will be streamed live at www.facebook.com/talkstigma.