Millions of veterans from The U.S.A., The U.K., France and other countries have fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Most recently, military soldiers have been based in Syria, the Ukraine, Boko Harem and numerous other countries. Many of these soldiers were not aware of the reality which war presents. Being put in imminent danger day in and day out, coupled with death, injuries and numerous psychological and emotional issues, PTSD in war veterans affects hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.
What is PTSD?
Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is also known as combat stress or in the past as shell shock syndrome. The psychological disorder occurs after a person experiences a severe trauma or life threatening event. This includes witnessing someone die, being sexually abused or physically assaulted or seeing an accident. While it is normal to go into a physical or mental shock after an event, PTSD occurs when the nervous system gets stuck.
New Research Shows How the Brain Responds to Stress
There is a staggering amount of ongoing research for PTSD; the latest has shown the brain responds to stressful events in three ways:
Social Engagement<- A majority of people will use this strategy to keep calm and feel safe. Listening to another voice, eye contact, friendly affection or just talking can help a person to relax, gather thoughts and halt the fight or flight defense mechanisms.
Fight or Flight- Also known as mobilization, this response occurs when social engagement is not possible or appropriate. In this case it could be a soldier’s inability to stay in a combat situation. During this time, the heart rate increases, muscles tighten and the senses become stronger. A persons' reaction time enhances and their strength and stamina rises. Once out of the danger zone, all of these things cease.
Immobilization – This reaction to a situation occurs during or after a trauma or large amount of stress. The physical danger may be gone, but the individual still feels stuck or trapped in that situation. With the central nervous system unable to return to its normal state, PTSD will be a result.
A large number of military veterans have developed symptoms of PTSD. According to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, many of these people are those who:
- Fought in ground or sever combat
- Worked in military or public hospitals
- Had pre-psychological disorders
- Was stationed for excessive time periods
- Were of lower rank
- Experienced a brain injury during or before combat
- Had less education
- Lacked any close relationships with loved ones
- Were female or just out of high school
In general the more tours or combat a person experiences, the more likely they will be to develop PTSD.
Recent Statistics of PTSD in War Veterans
- At least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or depression.
- 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment.
- Around 7% of veterans with PTSD may have traumatic brain injury.
- In 2012, more active duty personnel died by their own hand than combat.
- In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, approximately 1 in 10 returning U.S. soldiers seen by the VA have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.
Common Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD can occur within days or weeks of the trauma, but for many, they don’t surface for months or years after the experience. War veterans may not even realize there is a problem until they have been home from deployment for an extended period of time. While the symptom of PTSD in war veterans varies from person to person, there are four primary “clusters”:
Constant reminders</strong – Some people will have recurrent, paralyzing reminders of the event. Distressing thoughts, nightmares and random, but extreme, flashbacks may commonly occur. These feelings of the situation happening over and over can lead to panic attacks, shaking, heart palpitations and unconsciousness.
Extreme Avoidance – PTSD war veterans may go out of their way to avoid any reminders of the event. They may purposely ignore people, places, thoughts or situations which are associated with the trauma and lose interest in activities which they previously enjoyed. This can lead to withdrawal from loved ones and life as a whole.
Mood Fluctuations> – A person’s mood may become unstable. One minute they could appear happy and the next minute they’re upset, angry or sad. These negative changes can effect self esteem and lead to the diminished ability to experience uplifting thoughts and emotions.
Being On Guard – PTSD sufferers may seem as if they are on guard at all times. Some people will be jumpy or react to loud noises, bright lights or smells. During these situations, they may become angry or irritable. The individual could eventually experience trouble sleeping, inability to concentrate, hyper-vigilence and reckless behavior.
The above clusters do not limit the symptoms of PTSD. War veterans could experience some or all of them at any one time. If there are any underlying disorders such as Bi-polar, the symptoms can be exaggerated.
How PTSD in War Veterans Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse
It’s rather common for a war veteran with PTSD to turn to drugs or alcohol to mask their feelings and emotions. Acting as a coping method, men and women may feel as if these substances are the only way to alleviate the emotional and or physical pain.
In the case of PTSD amongst war veterans, suicide rates are very high. This becomes more prevalent in people who do not seek out help. It’s very important to talk to the military hospital, like the VA in the U.S.A., about the possibility of having PTSD. All too often, a soldier believes they are ‘weak’ because of the how they feel; these thoughts are dangerous to a person’s psyche and simply are not true.
PTSD can be treated with a variety of therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counselling, art, writing, meditation and yoga. It’s became increasingly common for a war veteran to seek the assistance of a rehab, with or without a co-occurring addiction. Rehabs offer the necessary therapies, vital support and safety nets for these individuals.
As one of the leading private rehabs in Asia, Serenity Chiang Rai has helped veterans from around the globe. Guided by a team of professional staff, individuals will be immersed into an eclectic range of results proven therapy and fitness modules. If you are a war veteran and would like to get treatment for PTSD and/or an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please contact Serenity Chiang Rai today.
- Analysis of VA Health Care Utilization among Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) Veterans:
- New York Times, Suicides Outpacing War Deaths for Troops, By Timothy Williams, June 8, 2012
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: Understand PTSD