Fact Sheet: Loneliness among the Military/Veterans

April 23, 2018

Consider what loneliness feels like to a veteran. After serving your country, surrounded and supported by team members, you return to a civilian life where there is no one to talk. No one understands what you’ve lived through, the inner turmoil you feel or your inability to quiet those negative voices in your head.

Veterans commit suicide at an alarmingly high rate, about 20 deaths a day. A recent study identified loneliness as the main cause of suicidal thinking among thousands of older soldiers who had not experienced direct combat. Loneliness ranked higher than posttraumatic stress disorder, disability or psychiatric problems in contributing significantly to the risk of developing suicidal thinking. (World Psychiatry, Sept. 2017)

Research increasingly focuses on the impact of loneliness on veterans’ health. “Loneliness may represent the most important component of connectedness, as it is associated with depression severity, suicidality, and health-related behaviors,” concluded a study of how social connectedness correlates to depression among veterans. (Journal of Affective Disorders, April 2018)

Only recently have researchers explored the distinct nature of military-related loneliness compared to that typical in civilian populations. Loneliness may persist for decades after veterans have left service. The distinct characteristic of veterans’ loneliness is defined by feeling “alien and homeless in a civilian world,” as well as by the sense they are misunderstood and the only one who feels a certain way. (Journal of Veterans Studies, 2017) The unique nature of loneliness among veterans also was highlighted by a recent online September 2017 poll of 2,000 British veterans, who reported feeling lonely and isolated because they had lost touch with British Armed Forces friends (41%) and struggled to relate to civilians (23%). More than a quarter had suicidal thoughts after concluding their military service.

Research indicates that social connectedness helps veterans battle depression. Connectedness can be cultivated through programs that nurture creative arts expression. When veterans process and share their personal stories, these programs create critical social connections in veterans’ post-military lives.

The application of creative and expressive therapies as part of treatment plans has shown significant benefits at leading institutions, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, and various VA institutions across the country.

The Foundation for Art & Healing is committed to extending the impact of this early field work by increasing awareness of how art and creative engagement powerfully influence healing and connect veterans with helpful resources. Compared to other treatments and interventions, creative engagement is relatively inexpensive and can be made widely accessible through online resources and interactive solutions, as well as through in-person community-based settings.

For more information:

The Foundation for Art & Healing