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Marine veteran shares perspective on mental health

Posted on 11.21.2017

Students showed their support for United States veterans on Nov. 9 when the University of Indianapolis Psychology Club hosted “A Veteran’s Perspective on Supporting Our Troops.” The event featured a veteran speaker and an activity.

According to MyUIndy, the club’s goal for the event was to provide background knowledge about issues veterans face when they return home, talk about how mental health factors in and provide tips for students and community members who want to get more involved.

Marine veteran Ray Lay shared his personal struggles with mental health and severe substance abuse.

Lay works as a volunteer peer support specialist and Indiana veteran recovery specialist through the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is now a board member for the organization. NAMI dedicates their time to improving individual, families and the community on mental illness.

Lay said he has been sober for more than a decade and now devotes his time to helping other veterans, specifically those in recovery for substance abuse and veterans struggling with mental health issues. He said that devoting his time to others has helped him in his journey to sobriety and he feels honored to be a part of the organization.

After years of being undiagnosed and uninformed, Lay said, he found himself addicted to drugs, homeless and serving jail time. Lay explained that, until 2009, he went through several psychiatrists until one finally sat down and properly diagnosed him with a mental health disorder. Now, on the proper medications, Lay strives to tell others about his life experience, hoping that it will one day help someone in the same situation.

Lay said that despite the mistakes he made, becoming a Marine wasn’t one of them.

“I am a formerly homeless, honorably discharged United States Marine,” he said. “I live with and in recovery of a dual diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and a polysubstance abuse issue.”

According to Lay, schizoaffective disorder is a severe mental illness, a mix of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, which he explained is bipolar disorder.

With the help of his psychiatrist, who also acts as his psychologist, a doctor of psychopharmacology and his personal clinical psychologist, Lay said that it has been more than 13 years since he was hospitalized following his diagnosis.

“Recovery is possible. I am a living, breathing example of that,” he said. “The average age for someone to be diagnosed with schizophrenia is between 15 and 30 years old. If you start to notice your friend acting strange, sit down and talk to them. Talk to your instructors. Treatment is effective. It really does work.”

Freshman psychology major Kara O’Flynn came to the event to help show her support for veterans and help give back to community.

“It is important for UIndy to have these events, not only for people to be aware of the issues but to not keep them behind closed doors,” she said. “Having events like these gives us an open discussion on ways to help them [veterans] but in a way where the veterans don’t feel like their feelings are invalid. As a community, we should help give support.”

O’Flynn said that having an open discussion is important because people in the community may know about the struggles veterans face in regards to mental health and substance abuse, but may not know how to handle them or how to talk about them.

“People may think it [mental health and substance abuse] is a delicate topic and they may think it is best to not talk about it. But that is exactly what we should be doing,” she said. “Addressing the problem, and having an open discussion, keeps people from shutting the issues away and forces people to talk about it without hurting someone’s feelings.”

Veteran Health Indiana has volunteer and internship opportunities. Those interested in volunteering can call 317-988-2734 or visit the medical center voluntary service office to schedule an appointment.

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