This week on MIA Radio we turn our attention to veterans, service members and military families. MIA has recently launched a new resource for military veterans which will provide news, personal stories and resources specific to veterans and their families. So to explain more about the new resources I am delighted to have been able to chat with Derek Blumke. Derek is the newest member of the MIA Team and he is the editor of the new veterans section.
Derek served 12 years in the US Air Force and Michigan Air National Guard before attending the University of Michigan where he cofounded Student Veterans of America. For his work, Derek received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and was recognised at the White House by President Barack Obama for his leadership in supporting returning military veterans.
- Derek’s time in the US Air Force and Michigan Air National Guard which saw him deployed to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
- How, following his service years, he transitioned to Community College in 2005 and then went on to the University of Michigan.
- How he came to feel that veterans were often isolated on campuses and this drove him to set up an organisation to provide support and connection for ex-service members, which became Student Veterans of America.
- That SVA is now the largest student organisation in the US and also the largest organisation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the country.
- That during his three years running SVA, Derek became involved in legislative action to help send military service members to college (the Post-911 GI Bill).
- How veterans face unique challenges but shouldn’t be viewed as somehow broken or in need of specific support.
- That it was post-service experiences that led to Derek’s realisation that our approach to mental health could be leading to damage and harm.
- How Derek came to set up a tech company which he describes as ‘the most stressful and challenging time of his life’.
- That these stresses and strains led to being prescribed psychiatric drugs, initially Adderall but later having Ambien and Gabapentin added and eventually Zoloft too.
- How the side effects of this cocktail rendered Derek barely able to function and led to him moving back to Michigan.
- That he stopped socialising, stopped posting on social media and his social circle reduced because of the effects of the drugs.
- How these experiences led to questioning and some research and how he withdrew from five drugs over a month, with the most issues coming from the antidepressant Zoloft.
- His description of withdrawal effects including tinnitus, brain zaps, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and extreme dizziness.
- That he came to read the New York Times article: ‘Many people taking antidepressants find they cannot quit’ and realised he was in acute withdrawal.
- That it ultimately took Derek a year to come off the Zoloft.
- How he discovered Mad in America and realised that the messages in the mainstream mental health world do not do justice to the experiences that people are having with psychiatric drugs.
- How Derek got involved with MIA and came to lead our news veterans initiative.
- The suicide epidemic that has so severely affected the veterans community and how it results in more deaths than casualties from recent conflicts.
- That he hopes that the MIA veterans initiative will be seen as the equivalent of Yelp for veterans who want to read personal accounts and learn from unbiased and alternative sources.
- That Derek is starting a new non-profit: Walk There, which is designed to get people together to walk in their local area.