This month marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Twenty years. It sounds like such a long time, and yet, for me, it seems as if time has somehow sped up. Twenty years ago I was in 8th grade watching planes full of people crash into buildings I had just visited a few weeks prior with my family, and then in the blink of an eye I’m in my mid-30s, still a student but also a mental health professional. I suspect many Americans might feel the same way, as if time dilated and the last twenty years just flashed by. Maybe we all wanted to put that horrible day behind us as quickly as possible, but time speeding up means we missed things along the way. This month we also saw the end of the war in Afghanistan, a direct result of those attacks and something which was often called “The Forgotten War.” I know I forgot about it many times during those sped-up twenty years, and was always surprised when the topic came up. “Oh wow,” I would think, “we’re still there?” The suffering of the Afghan people, as well as the multiple generations of young men and women we sent to die or be maimed, so easily forgotten. According to the VA, veterans kill themselves at a rate almost double that of the general American population (US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2020). The Forgotten War seems to have ended with the Taliban, the fanatical rulers of Afghanistan we overthrew twenty years ago, having immediately reclaimed power. All that suffering, all those deaths, from the planes to the towers to civilians and soldiers in distant lands, what was it for? It doesn’t surprise me that veterans, forgotten in our sped-up time, might have doubts about the meaning of their time served. It doesn’t surprise me that people who have been severely traumatized might have difficulty integrating into a world which has ignored and forgotten that trauma. As professionals we assess suicidality with direct questions (“Have you ever thought about killing yourself?”), but also by looking for subtle clues, like difficulty identifying future plans, giving away possessions and saying goodbye, isolating from loved ones, and using more substances than usual. I think we can all make an effort not to let time speed up any more than it has, and to remember those around us we have forgotten.
One way to remember is to go out of your way to help. Try volunteering, I found it greatly improved my overall mental health to do something positive for others. Chicago Veterans is a local organization focused on empowering veterans and assisting with building social support networks. Their volunteer link is: https://chicagovets.org/volunteer/. The VA provides tips and guidance on how to show support and reach out to veterans in your life, there’s a lot of useful information at: https://www.va.gov/reach/spm/. You can also share the veterans crisis line (1-800-273-8255), which operates 24 hours a day. At the very least, try watching a video on https://www.maketheconnection.net/, where veterans can share their stories. I have found several of these to be deeply moving, and if nothing else, hearing their stories helps keep them from being forgotten any longer.
Thanks for reading and be well.
-Anthony Crisanti, M.A.
US Department of Veterans Affairs (2021, September). National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2021/2021-National-Veteran-Suicide-Prevention-Annual-Report-FINAL-9-8-21.pdf