War can be a harsh, deadly environment that may leave people reeling from its effects even after they return home. This effect on one’s mental wellbeing has been called different names in the past, like shell-shock, combat fatigue, and Vietnam Veteran’s Disorder. Today, we know it as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Although more common in people who have served in the military, anyone who has experienced or seen a traumatic event is susceptible to PTSD.
The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as “psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” People with this disorder have intense feelings corresponding to the triggering event. It may take months for trauma to emerge. Even though a person does not need to experience all of the symptoms to have PTSD, they do need to have symptoms continue for a month to be diagnosed.
These symptoms may include:
Intrusive Thoughts: Nightmares, involuntary flashbacks, or other types of memories reliving the original trauma.
Avoiding Reminders: Those affected may go out of their way to avoid people, places, or things that take them back to the initial event.
Negative Thoughts or Feelings: Depression, anxiety, difficulty staying present, lack of concern, or changing moods can be side effects.
Reactive Symptoms: Inability to control reactions, like outbursts, restlessness, tension, anxiety, or difficulty falling asleep may be found in those with PTSD.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports the following statistics.
11% to 20% of Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have PTSD in a given year.
12% of Gulf War Veterans have PTSD in a given year.
15% of Vietnam veterans were currently diagnosed with PTSD during a study conducted in the 1980s (the National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study). This percent is believed to rise to 30% of veterans that have PTSD in their lifetime.
Veterans of recent years face different challenges than veterans of World War I and World War II due to different pressures and changes in culture. Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains “They aren’t returning with a unanimous victory,” such as WWI and WWII vets did, “and with each subsequent group — Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, OEF, OIF — there were fewer and fewer individuals who experienced active combat.”
Because of this, it may feel like there are less people who can relate to these returning veterans experiences. In turn, they may feel like there are less resources and people to talk to. They may feel isolated and reclusive, causing them to pull away from society or loved ones.
Veterans of more recent times also have challenges due to technological advantages. As travel has become advanced, it takes less time for veterans to return home. On the surface, this is a positive, but in reality it means less time to decompress with the horrors of war. In the past they had more time to reflect on their time and process what they encountered. They could write down their thoughts in the form of letters or journaling. Now, veterans fly home and return within 48 to 72 hours.
This trip home may also mean the return to a high stress job, like a law enforcement officer or firefighter, which bring their own challenges to PTSD recovery. Another stressor veterans face is less obvious. While veterans are out of combat and safe at home, they may feel a loss for the complicated high of being in combat. With the environment of heightened danger, a rush of feeling alive is present as well as the forming of intense brotherhood. These sensations can be hard to find in everyday life and can lead to veterans feeling empty.
Unfortunately, these feelings of isolation and emptiness can lead to suicide. The VA reports that between 2008 and 2016, there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides. Suicide rates were 1.5 times greater for veterans than non-veteran adults in 2016.
Although those dealing with PTSD may feel helpless, there are options for treatments. The frontline treatment is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Mayo Clinic defines CBT as “a common type of talk therapy. You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”
Other options may include medication or psychiatric treatment. One of the strongest forms of treatments is connecting with people. Veteran network groups can help those suffering by sharing relatable experiences. Some find relief in meditation, repetitive motions like sewing or woodworking, horseback riding, or taking care of a service or companion dog.
Ketamine is an anesthetic approved by the FDA that has shown some effectiveness in treating anxiety and PTSD in recent studies. It even seems to work faster than traditional antidepressant medications. Traditional antidepressant medications use SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, that boost serotonin levels in the brain and in turn makes one feel good. Ketamine seems to be having the same effects without the several weeks of wait time a traditional medication has. Those who have taken Ketamine infusions describe it as feeling like, “being able to look at your problems from a bird’s eye view.” This can help one process the trauma.
Our team at Regenerative & Sports Medicine is happy to offer these services and many more to help you find relief. Contact our team here or call 310-452-3206.