In WWI it was called Shell Shock; in WWII, Battle Fatigue. Korean War veterans were diagnosed with War Neurosis, and Vietnam vets with Post-Vietnam Syndrome. Whatever you call it, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), as it’s now known, continues to affect hundreds of thousands of veterans.
Today is PTSD Awareness Day, a day to speak up about post-traumatic stress, a condition that’s underreported, misdiagnosed, and, so often, misunderstood.
PTS BY THE NUMBERS:
- 10-13% of combat veterans experience post-traumatic stress in their lifetimes.
- Studies estimate that 1 in 5 military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has PTS.
- PTS affects to 20% of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans; 10% of Gulf War veterans, and 30% of Vietnam War veterans.
- 17% of combat troops are women; 71% of female military personnel develop PTS due to sexual assault within the ranks.
- The number of diagnosed cases of PTS in the military jumped 50% in the past year.
SEPARATING MYTH FROM FACT
The psychological scars of post-traumatic stress may be invisible, but its manifestations are not. Left untreated, it can lead to depression, drug and alcohol abuse, or suicide. Despite its prevalence, post-traumatic stress is often ignored, misinterpreted, and sensationalized by the media.
Listening to the stories of veteran experiencing post-traumatic stress can help us separate myth from fact.
MYTH: People begin experiencing PTS immediately after a traumatic event.
FACT: Sometimes symptoms surface months or years after a traumatic event or returning from deployment.
“ I was sober and clean almost 11 years, and I just couldn’t handle it no more, you know, my life. I couldn’t hold a job. I always had problems sleeping…very irritable, the whole bit. Plus, my family was always telling me I should go get some help.”
US Navy ((1971 – 1972))
SN, Ammunition Transporter
MYTH: Service members can never fully recover from PTS.
FACT: When people seek help and maintain a treatment program, post-traumatic stress symptoms can be managed or overcome entirely.
“My ability to overcome the situations that cause me to act negatively and not beneficial to me, are up to me, and I continue to seek treatment. I want to make a choice, not have my depression make the choice.”
US Marine Corps ((2003 – 2008))
Cpl, Intelligence Specialist, Rifleman
MYTH: PTS is a sign of weakness in character.
FACT: PTS is a physiological reaction to a traumatic or life-threatening situation.
“I also had the macho beliefs that if I admitted something was wrong, then I was defective. I was worried about how other people would interact with me, the labels I would carry the rest of my life, all kinds of nonsense. But as I got the help, the thing I learned is that every individual is a human being, and they can only take so much.”
US Army ((1966 – 1969))
1st Lieutenant / 1Lt, Infantry Unit Commander
MYTH: PTS makes people violent.
FACT: There are three main groups of symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress, one of which is called hyperarousal— a tendency to be angry, irritable, on edge, and/or easily startled. However, studies indicate that PTS doesn’t inevitably lead to violence, and many people with PTS experience entirely different signs and symptoms, like avoidance and numbing or re-experiencing the traumatic event.
“Sometimes I can’t really leave my house…I love to work out. Working out is fun!…But the idea of being around people at the gym, especially if I get off work and I’ve already had to deal with people all day and be around people, then go to the gym, and being around people again is too overwhelming. Because people are going to be in my space.They might touch me. I have to be aware of who’s behind me, where the exits are. It’s exhausting.”
US Navy ((2000 – 2001))
SN, Cryptological Technician Interpretive
Each person suffering from post-traumatic stress has a unique story, but we all have one thing in common —No one can do it alone.