Today is National PTSD Awareness Day so we’d like to bring some attention to one of the most serious conditions that plagues the lives of many of our servicemembers in order to encourage an open discussion where the needs of such individuals are recognized and acted upon. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that may result following the experience of a life-threatening event, such as combat. Experiencing feelings of irritability; recalling painful memories; or having trouble sleeping are common symptoms felt after such experiences. It is also possible for PTSD symptoms to occur later (and sometimes not appear for months or even years after the event) or start and stop again over the course of time.
It is important to realize that PTSD is an ailment that can affect any individual, in many ways, and is not a sign of weakness. Additionally, PTSD is more likely to occur from violent or long-lasting traumatic events, or events that resulted in injury (both common occurrences for military personnel). Hardships in daily life can also further the detriments of PTSD symptoms; however, social support can reduce them. Therefore, identifying symptoms of PTSD and treating them early on will lessen the burden on the lives of our servicemembers and their families.
Although everyone experiences symptoms differently (and may experience an array of symptoms), there are four common types of PTSD symptoms:
- Reliving the experience/having flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Avoiding situations, people, or places that trigger memories associated with the event
- Experiencing negative feelings like guilt or shame; or experiencing emotional numbness
- Constant alertness/trouble sleeping
These symptoms may also be a catalyst for larger problems, such as depression or anxiety; excessive drinking and drug consumption; difficulty staying employed; and relationship problems. To treat PTSD symptoms, individuals can seek help through trauma-focused psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is one such example of trauma-focused psychotherapy, where skills are developed to alter perceptions of the event (and thus how one feels about it). Additionally, individuals may find Prolonged Exposure (PE) effective, in that the trauma is discussed repeatedly until negative feelings associated with the event become less severe. It is also common for individuals to seek help via medication. However, it is important to consult a physician for any form of medical treatment.
As a family member, friend, or loved one of a servicemember suffering the effects of PTSD, there are certain ways you can assist them in acclimating back to civilian life:
- Allow your servicemember time to spend alone, as well as in the comfort of others.
- Help your servicemember find a local support group or therapist to talk to so they know they aren’t alone in their experience and can listen to other perspectives.
- Allow them time to become reacquainted with the various relationships in their life, as well as a new daily routine.
- Maintain a positive outlook and serve as a reminder to them that things will get better.
- Avoid pressuring them to discuss things they may not feel comfortable with, instead identify and seek out comforting situations, people and places.
- Help them set short-term & long-term goals that are realistically achievable.
The healing process takes time.
It is also possible that your service member may never be comfortable sharing information about past traumatic experiences. In these cases, it’s best to let the professional counselors do their job (if they are seeking psychotherapy) and ensure them that they have your full support.
You can also show your support by aiding the efforts of The Purple Heart Foundation. Each of our programs is dedicated to serving the needs of all veterans and their families and researching conditions like PTSD. Click here to see the various ways you can donate to our cause. Alternatively, you can host your own event to raise funds for the Purple Heart Foundation and donate the proceeds here. Every contribution makes a huge difference in the lives of those who so bravely defended this country’s freedoms. For more information about our programs and services, please contact us.