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

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Here's Part 3 of 3:




CP3: Some Veterans or Family Members may be reluctant to reach out for help at first. How have you seen Make the Connection break down barriers to asking for help?


Dr. SB: As you say, although a number of Veterans have already reached out for mental health support, many more Veterans may be in need of treatment but have not yet accessed services. What we’re working to overcome with is the stigma that can be associated with mental health services. Veterans most affected by stigma are those who are uncomfortable with—and therefore avoid—labels they associate with people who have mental health challenges.


By featuring real testimonials from Veterans and family members who have reached out for help and connected with care, visitors to can see that a more fulfilling life is possible and that seeking treatment is a strong thing to do. We think that approach works with some Veterans who could benefit from treatment but do not seek it—or may not even recognize that they have a treatable mental health issue.


CP3: You also provide some helpful tools for website owners and clinicians to help spread the word on Make the Connection. Tell me about some of these.


Dr. SB: A key part of Make the Connection is connecting Veterans with professionals. By reading about what Veterans may go through both during and after service, and by watching videos of Veterans talking about what they have experienced and the treatment they have received, clinicians can familiarize themselves with Veterans and the unique challenges and circumstances that they face.


Clinicians can also use as a tool while they are treating Veterans, as the website can be used to introduce Veterans to the stories of others so that they realize that they are not alone and that treatment and recovery are possible. In addition to Make the Connection, clinicians can use resources like VA’s Community Provider Toolkit and the resources provided by the National Center for PTSD as they work with Veterans in treatment.


The success of Make the Connection depends on support from everyone who interacts with Veterans, which is why features a “spread the word” section ( that contains Web ads and downloadable materials that people can use to get the word out about Make the Connection.


CP3: Starting a discussion with a Veteran who appears to be going through some personal challenges is a tough thing to do for some people. What do you recommend as an effective discussion starting point on such delicate, sensitive issues such as those listed on your website?


Dr. SB: First, I would say that whatever issue a Veteran and their friend or family member is dealing with, they are not alone and support is available. VA’s Coaching Into Care program is a telephone-based service that provides consultation services for family members who would like to help a Veteran seek mental health care in a VA treatment facility or Vet Center.


After talking with a professional, I would also suggest the family member/friend visit the Make the Connection website and watch a video with the Veteran. This is a great way to open a dialogue about what that Veteran might be going through.


With so many videos to choose from, there is bound to be a video that shows a situation similar to what a given Veteran is experiencing. By watching the video together, the family member and the Veteran can start a conversation that begins with the video but ends with the Veteran’s actual situation, thus easing into the conversation about his or her personal challenges without immediately focusing on what he or she is going through.


CP3: The Military has a culture of being tough, fighting through the physical pain, and otherwise maintaining a sense of having yourself “together”. What is being done to foster an environment where it is ok to ask for help?


Dr. SB: Despite antiquated thoughts surrounding mental health, asking for help and receiving treatment are in fact strong things for a Veteran to do. Make the Connection’s goal is nothing less than cultural change and revising this outdated social script. Thus, the campaign’s audience is not only every Veteran and Veteran family member, but every American. By presenting hundreds of videos of Veterans of all genders, eras, and branches who have gone through challenging experiences, reached out for support, and come out the other side to lead more fulfilling lives, is proving that “making the connection” with resources and treatment is something to strive for. As Reedy, a retired colonel with the U.S. Air Force who is featured in a video (, says, “If you’re in the military and you have supervisors or superiors who are telling you to tough it out or be a bulldog, please don’t listen to them, please go get help. You’re not doing yourself any good. Go seek help.”


Through these videos and by breaking down the barriers to receiving mental health treatment, Make the Connection hopes to guide more Veterans to access treatment options that are potentially lifesaving. We’d like to think that this cultural change—that is, an informed, positive, national conversation about Veteran strength and mental health—may eventually contribute to an increased understanding and acceptance of mental health disorders nationwide, not just for Veterans. This cultural shift can  ultimately lead to stronger communities.


Make the Connection is leading the charge to move beyond simple stigmatizing beliefs while letting the men and women who served in the military know that they are making the right decision for themselves and for their families when they reach out for support.


CP3: Is there a particular success story that comes to mind that you’d like to share?


Dr. SB: One of the first Veterans to participate in the campaign is Don, a combat Veteran who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After his service, he felt alienated by those who looked down on Veterans.


For years, he had traumatic memories and feelings of guilt. Don tried to put those memories behind him, but they came flooding back after 9/11 and he began having nightmares and angry outbursts. With encouragement from his wife and his family doctor, Don sought treatment for his combat stress and now encourages other Veterans to reach out for support.


His story can be found at


CP3: Thank You for sharing the Make the Connection story with me and the GOING CIVILIAN Community!