Skip to site navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Logo for Make the Connection Home


Bipolar Disorder Care Expands Coast Guard Veteran’s Horizons

3-minute read

Bipolar Disorder Care Expands Coast Guard Veteran’s Horizons

3-minute read

Read Stories > Bipolar Disorder Care Expands Coast Guard Veteran’s Horizons

Wayne was candid when he decided to meet with the military psychiatrist while still on active duty for the U.S. Coast Guard. For nearly 14 of his 15 years of service, Wayne had tried to manage his manic and depressive episodes on his own and hide their effects on his life. Although he now was seeking help, he didn’t have much faith in the effectiveness of seeking mental health treatment through the military.

Wayne recalls telling the psychiatrist: “There’s always going to be some apprehension and reservation from me. However, I’m willing to give it a shot.”

He’s glad he did—and hopes his story will inspire Veterans like him to do the same.

Finding his way to treatment

Wayne excelled after beginning his Coast Guard service in 2000, finding the most enjoyment as a deck watch officer—directing the crew’s actions to safely navigate the ship—and the most satisfaction in taking care of his crew members and working with high-caliber people. His career highlight, he says, was serving as a White House social aide during President Barack Obama’s first term in 2009. 

Through most of his 15 years of service, Wayne kept some things about himself a secret. Serving mostly during a time when he could be discharged for revealing his sexual orientation, he kept quiet about being gay and sometimes felt compelled to stay silent when homophobic remarks were made—although he says there were times when he gathered the courage to call out service members for their unacceptable behavior. 

Wayne also was dealing with mental health challenges: extreme highs and lows from what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. 

“There were long periods of mania,” Wayne says. “You just want to work, work, work—whatever you decide to put your energy towards while you can’t sleep. … I was working 18-plus hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even go home.” 

At the other end of the spectrum were depressive episodes that Wayne describes this way: “Days upon days of not giving a [expletive]. … You want to sleep all the time. You neglect others and then you kind of neglect taking care of yourself.” 

Wayne was convinced he needed to seek help when he felt his work started to suffer. He prided himself on his high level of performance, but he began to notice mistakes he had made. 

“I realized the adverse impact on other people,” he says. “I decided that it was selfish of me not to disclose what was going on and try to get the help that I needed.” That’s how he ended up at the psychiatrist’s office in the fall of 2014. 

Getting the VA care that helps him thrive 

That psychiatrist gained Wayne’s trust and confidence. “I’m forever grateful to him,” Wayne says. The positive experience convinced Wayne to continue mental health care for the remainder of his service and as a Veteran through VA’s system when he retired in 2015. 

Wayne’s psychiatrists at VA worked with him to find medications to stabilize his mood. This stabilization also enabled him to fully benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and targeted 15-week programs with objectives such as improving relationships or managing self-deprecating thoughts. 

“The medication coupled with therapy, it really helps you,” Wayne says. He says the therapies helped him embrace being his authentic self, get to the root of certain behaviors, become a more confident person, and establish better relationships with family members. 

Asked why he’s sharing his story with other Veterans, Wayne responds: “I think there is a great importance in representation and inclusion in order to break the stigma of coming forth with mental health concerns. There needs to be people to say, ‘It’s OK to get help.’”

No matter what you may be experiencing, find support for getting your life on a better track.

Back to Top