Your Strongest Connection Ever: Interview with Dr. Sonja Batten - Part 2 of 3

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Here's Part 2 of 3:

 

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CP3: The quality of relationships at work and at home means a lot to Veterans. Oftentimes, Veterans spend countless days and months with their Military Family then make the journey home to be with their relatives. What challenges do you see during these times, and what does Make the Connection do to help?

 

Dr. SB: Sometimes relationships can grow stronger as Veterans and their loved ones go through experiences like deployment or treatment; but relationships can also be strained as the people who are involved adapt to new situations and change accordingly.

 

There are times when getting along with other people can be more difficult than a Veteran would expect. If a Veteran is returning from deployment or other time away from family and friends, or he or she is going through a significant life change, like retirement, going back to school, or going through physical or mental health treatment, the Veteran may not feel as if he or she is the same person as before. Or the Veteran may feel as if close family and friends have changed. Veterans’ family and friends may notice a change in their loved ones as well, and they may feel awkward because they are not sure what to say or do to make the Veteran feel comfortable. Communication can be hard during the best of times, even with those the Veteran is closest to, and challenging experiences and changes in personality and behavior can lead to social isolation or relationship conflicts.

 

MakeTheConnection.net helps Veterans and military families understand that they are not alone in what they are going through, that there are resources and support available, and that a changed relationship doesn’t have to be a bad or lost relationship.

 

Challenges with family and friends are represented in the videos on MakeTheConnection.net, and one of the first Veterans who comes to mind is Nicole. Nicole is an Army Veteran and Air Force Reservist who had relationship problems with her own family after she returned home from service. While overseas, she focused on surviving. After her service, she felt detached. Nicole’s husband, also in the service, narrowly escaped death in an attack on his vehicle and dealt with survivor’s guilt. Back home, their children were affected by the stress of two deployed parents. Nicole was able to reach out for support for herself and her entire family so that they could all move forward. Her story of strength can be viewed at MakeTheConnection.net/Nicole.

 

There are other ways that MakeTheConnection.net focuses on Veterans and their family members. There are information pages on “family and relationships” as well as “relationship problems.” Each of these pages has information on what a Veteran might be going through as well as steps a Veteran can take to handle family and relationship challenges, and includes ways Veterans and their loved ones can “make the connection” with resources, like local Vet Centers or VA’s Coaching Into Care program.

 

CP3: Life events and experiences is another key area for Make the Connection. Please share with me how you’re able to address all of these important areas on behalf of providing these much needed services and support to the Military.

 

Dr. SB: Yes, sometimes, the problems a Veteran faces might not be as clear-cut as flashbacks or nightmares. Veterans experience a range of life events, opportunities, and challenges after they leave the military. The death of loved ones, physical injury, and financial or legal issues and transitions like returning home after service, preparing for deployment, going back to school, or retiring can all add stress to daily life. While Make the Connection is a mental health awareness campaign that seeks to connect Veterans and their loved ones with care, it is important to highlight the day-to-day events that might exacerbate adjustment challenges or make everyday life difficult.

 

Make the Connection provides information on certain life events and experiences so that Veterans who find themselves in those scenarios have information and support to turn to.

 

CP3: One of the things that caught my eye on your website was the Video Gallery! In seconds, I was able to read a title and view a video that interested me. Nothing better than having a video of someone you can relate to at your fingertips. What has been the response thus far?

 

Dr. SB: Very, very positive. As you say, the video gallery provides Veterans with shared experiences, which are important in encouraging Veterans and their loved ones to reach out for support. As of December 2013, there were 8,372 subscribers to the Make the Connection YouTube channel and more than 7.4 million video views total. Comments on the YouTube channel and on the Make the Connection Facebook page are full of support for the Veterans and family members featured in the videos and the comments highlight how others were helped by watching these stories.

 

Here are some examples of the responses on Facebook:

 

             “This site has been a blessing. I thought I was the only ‘odd man out’ with these feelings I live with on a daily basis still plagued with vivid, physical nightmares, it really sucks. Thanks to all my fellow vets for sharing your stories.”

             “I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for years, I really never thought it could be PTSD. After a near death experience I am finally getting the help I need and am no longer self medicating. If it weren’t for this site, I may not have recognized the signs.”

 

CP3: Once a Veteran or Family Member watches a video or learns something about a particular life event or challenge, what types of helpful resources do you include that can help them take the next steps?

 

Dr. SB: Each information page—that is, the drop-down menus under “life events and experiences,” “signs and symptoms,” and “conditions”—contains details on how a Veteran or family member can take the next step and “make the connection.” Each page also has a number of resources listed at the bottom. Resources are wide-ranging and include VA medical centers, VA benefits information, the Veterans Crisis Line (which connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat), and outside organizations that provide support for Veterans or those facing other mental health or life challenges. And visitors can search by region: Resource locators on the site provide local contact information for multiple VA programs and specialists and non-VA programs within the visitors’ communities. The resource locators are at MakeTheConnection.net/Resources.

 

Please continue reading Part 3