Service Saves Lives: The Mission Continues Commitment to Mental Health
At the core of all The Mission Continues’ programs is a dedication to veteran wellness. We believe service saves lives. Our unique approach is born of our commitment to serving veterans and communities while understanding it takes a holistic approach to improve mental health.
As a peer support organization, we fill a critical void in mental health services for veterans. Our programs provide upstream interventions designed to combat mental health issues. Veterans engage in environments promoting social connection and an increased sense of purpose, mitigating risk factors such as depression and barriers to care for improved mental health.
Mental health concerns touch all people, with more and more people in the United States acknowledging and adapting to those concerns. The veteran population is known to face disproportionate rates of mental health issues, unique to military-specific duties and reintegration experiences. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and substance abuse are the most common mental health concerns among veterans. Notably, the experience of reintegration into civilian life can lead to mental health struggles as individuals navigate the challenging transitions in work, home, and friendships. It can leave veterans feeling disconnected and socially isolated, a factor strongly linked to depression among veterans.
Solutions through service: how volunteering and mental health go hand in hand
For volunteers, we see improvements, including increased self-esteem and social connectedness, both of which are important for physical and mental well-being. The act of volunteering provides a path to better mental health throughout the physical, emotional, intellectual, social, environmental, and spiritual spheres.
The wellness and mental health benefits of volunteering with The Mission Continues include:
- A meaningful connection to new friends and allies in a shared cause
- An increased sense of purpose as you see and feel the direct impact of your service
- A personal and professional support system found among those you serve with, community partners, and staff
- Physical movement through hands-on service
- Continued learning through leadership development trainings
Our accessible programs provide service opportunities for veteran volunteers to address community-specific needs as leaders for positive change. The outcomes of their service support mental health by creating a space for volunteers to make a meaningful impact while investing in their own long-term well-being.
Our approach to positive mental health outcomes
We meet veterans where they are in their reintegration process. Our programs combat mental health risk factors, including social isolation by building connections–connecting to other veterans, connecting to community members, and connecting to a sense of purpose by doing good for others. Participants join The Mission Continues at different stages of transition. On the surface, veteran participants engage in various opportunities to strengthen and beautify communities while developing increased leadership skills. Meanwhile, they form new bonds and share past and current experiences among their peers due to an inherent peer support model found in each of our programs.
Each program curriculum is developed to align with The Mission Continues’ Empowered Veteran Index (EVI), a framework designed to incorporate our mission and vision under the objectives of personal growth, connectedness, and community impact. The EVI is a metric for increased well-being, allowing us to evaluate how effective our programs are in these three domains. Since incorporating the EVI in 2017, 85% of participants report feeling more connected to other veterans after completing a Mission Continues program.
Stephanie Lewis talks about her transition and path forward in her community of Watts as a platoon member with The Mission Continues
Learn more about how our programs provide opportunities and reduce barriers to mental health support
When veteran volunteers sign up to serve for a local service project or six-month Service Leadership Corps, they are exposed to a social network in The Mission Continues community. While this does not replace the military experience, it creates a new space for veteran engagement and a renewed sense of purpose through continued civic service. Across all platforms, veteran participants are asked to apply their established skills and receive further training in communication, leadership, and self-care to leverage their prior knowledge into future impact.
The Mission Continues’ four volunteer programs engage veterans in various ways for positive individual and collective mental health outcomes.
Service Platoons – A veteran peer-support model and community-based initiative with ongoing service missions specific to local community needs. Platoon leaders guide and mentor their fellow veteran platoon members as change-agents in areas including food insecurity, environmental protection, and immigrant services. Service platoons are support systems, engaging veterans through leadership opportunities and events regularly, creating positive social connections, and renewed purpose.
Service Leadership Corps – An intensive six-month online and in-person leadership program for veterans interested in learning applicable skills in local community development and advocacy. Participants are teamed up to work together as they learn how to translate their new skills within their communities. The program expands veterans’ networks and bridges participants’ past experiences with new opportunities for community service.
Women Veterans Leadership Program – A diverse cohort of women veterans engage in a five-month curriculum and speaker series, addressing challenges specific to their experience as women in the military and now as civilians. Participants network and learn self-care, leadership skills, self-advocacy, and more in their pursuit of personal wellness.
Mass Deployment – Over 70 veterans deploy to one city to live and serve together in a week of high-impact, physical community service and skill-building in leadership, advocacy, and cultural competency. Their service reignites camaraderie and builds long-term connections while driving community change. The support of veteran ambassadors provides a peer support model that guides the veterans throughout their week of service and extends back home into their personal lives.
The service doesn’t stop there. Within all our service objectives, the aim is for long-term positive impact within communities and volunteers. Our recently launched Alumni Network builds continued bridges among all our veterans ranks to ensure peer support among new and experienced volunteers. Alumni are involved in mentorship, continuing service, and provide a key resource for participants from people who have been doing the work on the ground.
Our role in supporting mental health and reducing risk factors
We provide upstream interventions to mediate mental health issues where others can not. It’s well known that struggles such as PTSD, substance abuse, and depression affect a disproportionate effect on the veteran population. However, among 9/11 veterans displaying mental health symptoms, roughly only half receive treatment due to barriers to care such as stigma, limited access, and a national shortage of mental healthcare workers. In taking a proactive upstream approach, we provide peer-centered opportunities for engagement. Offering alternative pathways to mental health support and disrupting risk factors such as isolation before it can take root, causing deleterious impact.
While not all veterans struggle with reintegration, those who do can benefit greatly from opportunities geared towards increased social support, purpose-driven activities—resulting in higher levels of resilience, a reduction in both social isolation and the risk of suicide. Social connectedness is vital for personal well-being and positive mental health. The Mission Continues provides veterans with the opportunity for increased connection and breaks down barriers to accessing mental health support.
Social connection is more than being in the presence of others. It is the feeling of inclusion and strength gained from meaningful relationships. The Mission Continues empowers veterans to develop new social networks, and pathways to increased well-being, through participation in our programs. In the process, the social connections and camaraderie formed among fellow veterans provide a culture of peer support — a strengths-based approach, focusing on social bonds and individuals’ assets for self-empowerment and increased self-esteem.
The Mission Continues has applied what we know about veteran reintegration and mental health and stepped in to fill an essential need in the reintegration process as a community-based veteran wellness provider. Helping to improve mental health challenges by reducing social isolation, and the potential outcomes of depression and suicide through connectedness informed programming. Veteran volunteers with the Mission Continues are empowered to serve in their communities while connecting to each other and a new sense of purpose through service platoons and a series of leadership programs.
As a product of their service, our veteran volunteers are solving for some of their own shared concerns related to mental health and wellness. Our 2019 4th Annual Survey, illustrated how our programs are beneficial in connecting veterans, feeling less alone and ultimately aiding in their reintegration process. The key findings showed:
- Veterans who have participated in one of our programs/events within the past two years have a higher purpose of life, resiliency, self-efficacy, and connectedness than those that have not participated within the past two years.
- More than three-quarters (87%) of participants reported feeling more connected with other veterans’ post-participation with TMC.
- 75% of veterans said they felt more connected to the non-veteran community.
- Nearly 90% of veterans felt a sense of community with The Mission Continues
My transition to civilian life was difficult. I struggled with post-traumatic stress and mental health issues, drugs and alcohol became my refuge. I finally hit rock bottom in 2015 and decided to turn my life around. I enrolled in college, and a year later, The Mission Continues invited me to join The Service Leadership Corps, where I learned leadership skills and met people who helped me see new opportunities. My experience with The Mission Continues taught me not to count myself out. Today I’m pursuing my master’s degree in social work to help veterans get a second chance like I had.
Eric Sowers, Service Leadership Corps Alumni
What we know about veterans and mental health
Mental health exists on a spectrum, with stressors affecting people at different times and degrees across their life-span. Transition stress, the process of adapting from a military to civilian identity, may be far more common of an experience than PTSD, but less acknowledged when considering the complexity of reintegration and the struggles many veterans face. (Mobbs & Bonanno, 2017) A lack of understanding around transition stress and related mental health challenges among the civilian community can further compound feelings of disconnection, and the challenges veterans face in this process.
Our allies in this mission
Our ability to reach veterans and the greater community depends on the generous support of our partners. This includes the George W. Bush Institute’s Veteran Wellness Alliance.
The Mission Continues welcomes new partnerships to empower even more veterans seeking opportunities for personal well-being and social change. Please reach out to Laura L’Esperance, VP of External Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information to support us in this effort.
For those in need of professional mental health services, refer to our list of partner resources below. In the case of a medical emergency, please contact 911.
Mental Health & Social Service Resources
Cohen Veterans Network ≫ Individual and family therapy available for veterans.
To make an appointment go to their website or call 855-698-4677. In a crisis, call: 800-273-8255 – PRESS 1
Veterans Crisis Line ≫ Connect with a trained responder via phone, text, or chat for free 24/7 mental health support. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline ≫ Receive emotional support along with prevention and crisis resources. Call the lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Veteran Wellness Alliance ≫ Find a mental health provider and treatment options in your community.
Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services ≫ Access free mental health support services.
Wounded Warrior Project’s Mental Wellness ≫ Receive support and treatment for mental health challenges, including PTSD, TBI and more.
Psychology Today ≫ Find a nearby therapist specializing in your concerns.
Women Veterans Call Center ≫ A comprehensive guide to VA services for women veterans. Call or text 1-855-829-6636.
211(United Way) ≫ Locate a variety of social support services in your area with the help of a community resource specialist.
Veteran Affairs Health Services ≫ Find a VA center near you providing the health service you require.
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