By Staff Sgt. Mary Junell (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1151909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
PTSD, and mental health in general, is a largely misunderstood topic. PTSD has become a hot topic of conversation again, especially referring to Donald Trump’s recent comments on the subject. It seems rather ironic that someone who dodged the draft thinks they have the authority to judge a soldier on their performance in combat and life when returning back home. Hopefully this article will serve as a platform for further discussion and interest in the subject of PTSD.
First, it’s vital to understand exactly what PTSD is. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It commonly occurs in those who have been in high stress situations, especially combat. Just for a moment, think about this hypothetical situation. You’re in a HUMVEE with your best friend, You’re on the left side, your friend is on the right. Your HUMVEE is hit with an IED on the right side. Your friend is now on fire. Imagine for a brief moment the amount of emotional stress that would put on you. That’s something that could have happened to one of our many veterans suffering with PTSD. However, there are people who live with PTSD and have never shot a gun in their life. A common example would be the fear of automobiles after experiencing a devastating car accident. People tend to think that those with PTSD are mentally weak. This assumption is simply untrue. While it is true that every human reacts differently to the same stimuli, especially ones relating to combat, there is not scientific evidence correlating only “weak” people develop PTSD, and “strong” don’t. This is according to an emergency room study reported by New York Mag and conducted by BioMed Central. The study took into account 68 different factors and was unable to find any correlation either. Common symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, and avoiding things that trigger the memories of the event. Other symptoms include pushing away family and friends, lacking trust in others, suicidal thoughts, and feeling keyed up constantly. An additional misconception is that those veterans who commit or think about suicide are the most guilty of being weak. In fact, the opposite is true. According to the Archives of Suicide Research, those who experience suicidal thoughts are capable of handling more emotional stress. While this does sound counter intuitive, people who are able to handle this greater amount of emotional stress frequently look and act “OK” even when they’re not. This leads to veterans not seeking professional help or gaining the support at home needed to heal from these events. Those who, unfortunately, have the chance to commit suicide are not all combat veterans, surprisingly. According to CNN and the Veterans Affairs own data, “fewer than 1 in 6 service members who died by suicide had experienced direct combat”. PTSD, when left untreated, opens the door for destructive self medication. According to Bustle.com, DualDiagnosis.org, and Alcohol Research and Health, half of those who suffer from PTSD turn to alcohol to help them deal with their symptoms. It’s even higher in Vietnam veterans, 60-80% of those with PTSD resort to alcohol and drugs according to myPTSD.com. Others turn to drugs or develop eating disorders. Keep in mind, however, that these are not the only symptoms of PTSD. There are many factors involved in the diagnosis that I can’t possibly cover in this short article. Lastly, the PTSD stigma reinforces the idea that PTSD isn’t treatable. Like all the other stigmas before, this is grossly untrue. In fact, there are many different options in treatment, according to the Veterans Affairs website. Having regular talks with a therapist coupled with group therapy and drugs like Zoloft are generally regarded as the most effective course of treatment. There are more effective treatments being tested, including one called Cognitive Processing Therapy. PTSD is something scientists don’t fully understand yet, and until that day comes, it is vital to understand what we can about this serious injury.