For many veterans, surviving deployment to a war zone is only half the battle. Returning military personnel often find themselves in a different type of combat – facing a serious problem known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD has been linked to military suicides, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And many returning veterans and their families must deal with PTSD related symptoms, such as depression and anger.
“Exposure to violence during military combat can cause measurable, physical changes to the brain leading to the development of PTSD,” says Deanna Johnson, MD, psychiatrist, Providence Behavioral Medicine Group. “Service men and women may not understand they are experiencing real symptoms that can be treated.”
What is PTSD?
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event, such as military combat. Symptoms don’t always show up right away. In many cases, they do not reveal themselves until months or years after the trauma.
According to the National Center for PTSD, people with the disorder experience three main types of symptoms:
- Reliving the trauma in some way. Upsetting memories of the event can return unexpectedly or be triggered by something, such as a car backfire. Sometimes the memories can feel so real that it seems like the event is happening again.
- Staying away from places or people that are reminders of the traumatic event, isolating oneself, or feeling numb.
- Feeling a constant emotional arousal that can cause irritability, outbursts of anger, or difficulty sleeping or concentrating. PTSD can be successfully treated. But many veterans with PTSD do not realize they have the disorder or do not seek treatment, reports the center.
“It is important to seek help and avoid isolation or substance abuse as a way to cope,” says Dr. Johnson. “A health care professional will conduct a comprehensive assessment so treatment can be tailored to the individual.”
How you can help
When someone you love has PTSD, it can significantly change your way of life. Your loved one may act differently or become angered easily. He or she may not want to do things you used to enjoy together.
Although you may feel helpless, there are things you can do:
- Learn as much as you can about PTSD.
- Seek professional help for your loved one, yourself or both of you. Offer to go to the doctor with your loved one.
- Tell your loved one that you want to listen and that you understand if he or she doesn’t feel like talking.
- Plan fun family activities together – such as having a nice dinner; going to a movie; or walking, biking or doing some other physical activity.
- Set up a timeout system to use when your loved one becomes angry. Agree on a timeout signal that means the discussion will stop.
- Encourage contact with family members or close friends. A support system can be very helpful in difficult times.
To learn more about PTSD, visit www.ptsd.va.gov. If suicide is a concern, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line.