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Mental Health Monday: Veterans face struggles in civilian life

Still Serving Veterans CEO and President Paulette Risher says mental illness is a national and community-wide phenomenon that's only getting worse.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — We thank them for their service every year, but do we really know what veterans go through when they return to civilian life?

There are more than 400,000 veterans living in Alabama and many of them are battling mental illness. Still Serving Veterans CEO and President Paulette Risher says mental illness is a nation and community-wide phenomenon that's only getting worse.

"The highest percentage of loss is among young veterans, the highest numbers, over 300%, are older veterans, white men, older, 65 to 70, are the highest group for any demographic - veteran or not," said Risher.

One major concern in Alabama specifically is for veterans who live in rural areas.

"There is a really powerful research that shows that to feel socially isolated is the same detrimental effect on your body as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day," said Risher. "Mental health concerns can be very much countered if you have people who support you."

Still Serving Veterans works with 1,200 veterans and they say they see veterans craving social connection on a daily basis.

Here are some tips to help someone you know before it's too late:

First, don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. "People say all the time, 'I'm afraid to ask that question,'" said Risher. It's okay to ask whether someone is thinking of taking their own life.

Risher also says it's important to validate whatever they are feeling. People experiencing a mental health crisis just want to be heard. Rather than saying everything is going to be okay, just listen to what they have to say.

Lastly, if you or a veteran you know is going through a crisis, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.