More than 10 years of war has led to a major health problem for the soldier returning home. PTSD is very real and families are left coping with their loved ones suffering from PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. This is going to remain a huge issue for years to come.
A symposium held this week featured top military experts alongside civilian experts from Britain, the United States, and Canada. In fact, never before have NATO allies come together to share their information on PTSD.
Families that had soldiers on the front lines of Afghanistan are really feeling the brunt of PTSD. Even though there is all kinds of studies on this subject there appears to still be large gaps in the information. The experts point out that military families are more affected by PTSD than other families because their loved one was in active combat.
Depending on where you read, it seems that in the United States around 25 percent of soldiers suffer from PTSD, while in Canada it is around 20 percent and in Britain around 8 per cent. The more time soldiers are exposed the more likely they will suffer from PTSD.
Most people think PTSD is found in battle-scarred soldiers, and while military combat is the most common cause in soldiers, any devastating life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Post-traumatic stress also affects those who witness a trauma, and those who are responsible for picking up the pieces after the event. This includes emergency workers, as well as, law enforcement officers.
What is PTSD?
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after a traumatic event, which is why soldiers are at risk. During a traumatic event, you believe your life or someone else’s is in danger, which makes you feel afraid and out of control. If those feelings don’t go away after the event, then you are likely do develop PTSD.
How PTSD Develops
The majority of people that go through a trauma have symptoms right at the start. However, they will not all develop symptoms. Whether you are diagnosed with PTSD depends on several things including:
- How long you experience the trauma for
- How close you were to the trauma
- How strongly the person reacted to the trauma at the time
- How much support they received after the traumatic event
Symptoms generally start shortly after the trauma but sometimes it takes months, even years for the symptoms to occur. There are four kinds of symptoms:
1. Continuously reliving the trauma
- Upsetting memories of the traumatic event
- Nightmares of the event or related events
- Flashbacks, which is like you feel you are there
- Intense distress when you are reminded of the trauma
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event such as pounding heart, muscle tension, sweating
2. Avoidance of situations that are similar
- Avoiding people places related to the event that might trigger memories of when the trauma occurred
3. Feeling Numb
- Finding it hard to express feelings of any kind
- No interest in finding joy in their lives
- Inability to remember important details of the event
- Feeling emotionally detached and numb
- Having a sense of a limited future
4. Emotional Issues
- Being keyed up
- Jittery, always alert and watching for danger
- Can’t fall asleep
- Difficult time concentrating
- Feeling jumpy
- Easily startled
The key is recognizing the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in yourself or your loved one, and then get them the help they need. Treatments include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– this is by far the most effective treatment available to those who are suffering from PTSD. There are different types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In CPT you learn skills that help you to understand how the trauma affected your thoughts and feelings, and changed you. In PE you repeatedly talk about your trauma until the memories don’t upset you anymore. You also visit places that you have been avoiding because of your trauma. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR – this is a therapy that focuses on sounds while you talk about your trauma.
- Medications can also be highly effective. SSRI drugs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which are used for depression, are highly effective in treating post traumatic stress disorder. Prozosin has been used to reduce nightmares.
- Family Therapy – Because PTSD affects the entire family, often treatment includes the family of the affected person. This can help the family to understand what their loved one is going through. It can also help to improve communication between parties.
- Seek out others who are going through the same thing as you. You might be tempted to become withdrawn from social activities with the people you love, but it’s important that you fight that urge.
- Avoid the use of alcohol and/or drugs, which will make things worse.
- Challenge yourself when you feel helpless. Work to overcome that fear and that feeling. Reclaim your sense of power by helping others during their difficult times.
Remember recovery from post traumatic stress disorder is a slow process, so don’t give up on yourself or the one you love who is suffering with PTSD. Get the help you need and move towards recovery.
Military families that believe they or someone they love is suffering from PTSD should seek help. It is important to find a therapist that feels right to you. You can start by asking your family physician for a referral to a therapist who has dealt with post traumatic stress. There are also things you can do in the form of self healing: