The numbers are incomprehensible and unacceptable.
Of the 1.7 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, approximately 300,000 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to the unimaginable wages of experiencing combat, both military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injuries have been linked to this burgeoning epidemic. Perhaps most distressing is that an alarming 50 percent of veterans, overall, do not even seek treatment.
But PTSD treatment is available – and it has been shown to be highly effective among the veteran population. With proper care, veterans with PTSD can learn to identify their triggers, confront their trauma, and hopefully take control of their futures.
Helping a veteran to take that critical step, however, requires an understanding of what PTSD is and how it manifests. In addition, patience, empathy, and open-mindedness is necessary.
If you have a loved one who has suffered, or is currently suffering, with PTSD – or if you, personally, are struggling – the most important thing to know is that you are not alone and that there is help available.
The following are 10 essential things to know about PTSD and PTSD treatment.
- What is it? PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an illness, no different than diabetes or high blood pressure, that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or and/or life-threatening event, such as a natural disaster, sexual assault, or combat.
- What are the symptoms? Individuals suffering from PTSD often re-live the causal event via flashbacks and/or nightmares, and may find themselves avoiding places, people, and things that are reminiscent of the trauma, even if they do not realize the connection. PTSD often causes negative thoughts, anxiety, edginess, anger, grief, and feelings of loneliness or isolation, as well as physical symptoms such as a racing heart or muscle tension. PTSD is an all-encompassing illness involving all aspects of one’s self – body, mind, and spirit.
- What are triggers? A trigger is something – a sight, a sound, a smell – that reminds an individual suffering from PTSD of their trauma, causing symptoms – in many cases, flashbacks – to emerge. A car backfiring, for instance, could trigger a flashback in a veteran who had endured combat. Some individuals experience triggers about which they are unaware, thus experiencing symptoms at times with unexpected onset and intensity.
- What are the stats? According to the National Center for PTSD, of those who have experienced trauma, approximately 1 in 10 men and 2 in 10 women will develop PTSD. The disorder is most commonly associated with war veterans, but not necessarily those who experienced direct combat. (Approximately 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are said to be suffering from PTSD.)
- How is PTSD diagnosed? Screening questionnaires are available, though they do not necessarily indicate that a person has PTSD. Those who are exhibiting symptoms should discuss these issues with their physician, and seek the care of a properly trained mental health professional who can begin to develop a course of action for treatment.
- PTSD is NOT imaginary. The disorder is the complex result of biological and physiological responses, and is not a sign of weakness or lack of character. Just as an individual cannot lower their blood sugar by sheer will alone, PTSD cannot be “willed away.”
- PTSD can be a precursor to other disorders. Studies have shown that those who suffer from PTSD are at greater risk for developing other illnesses and issues ranging from depression to substance abuse. PTSD remains a leading cause of suicide among military veterans.
- Treatment is available. Multiple methods are currently in practice, many yielding promising results in mitigating or lessening the effects of PTSD. Talk therapies, such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) – in which a patient is encouraged to address the triggering trauma repeatedly in an attempt to master it – and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which encourages patients to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs while devising new ways to think about their trauma, are frequently employed. Additional treatment methods include, but are not limited to:
Some prescription drugs have been proven to effectively treat the symptoms of PTSD, though other therapies are often encouraged to identify and work through the underlying trauma. Some medications, however, such as Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers), have been shown to become addictive and harmful to the body. The guidance of a psychiatrist specifically trained to treat PTSD is essential to creating a plan of care that uses such drugs only when necessary and includes other, non-medication therapies in their treatment regimens.
- Social support is critical. The tragedy of PTSD is that the disorder’s myriad of symptoms often cause rifts between those suffering and those who want to help. Not only have studies shown that a steadfast social support network reduces the likelihood of PTSD by 40 percent, it is absolutely imperative for the recovery of those currently suffering. Many veterans with PTSD feel they have no place to turn, and no one to confide in. And while assisting someone whose body and mind is urging them to disassociate from friends and society is no easy task, person-to-person contact and reassurance is believed by many to be as important, if not more so, than other treatment methods, including medications.
- Additional help is on the way. Veteran Health Services, a 501 (c)(3) company, is currently fundraising to build its inaugural clinic in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, with plans for future development in locations nationwide. By providing comprehensive care for veterans and their families, regardless of their level of service connection, ability to pay, or a third party’s concept of “medical necessity,” our clinic and its supporters – will begin to chip away at this epidemic affecting our country’s veterans.
Read more about what makes Veteran Health Services different. If you are seeking immediate care for PTSD or other conditions, please see our Resources page, contact your local VA, or call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to speak to someone now.