Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a long-standing, debilitating mental health disruption that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Having a trauma response to an event that is potentially life threatening, or has caused harm to you or others, is a normal physiological reaction – there’s no need to feel ashamed! If you’ve ever wondered how common PTSD is among veterans and how to deal with this disorder, keep reading as we have all of those answers below.
The events that can lead to the development of PTSD vary. What someone may consider trauma and have a significant reaction to, others may recover from more easily. Examples of trauma, outside of war and combat, can include: accidents, sudden deaths, physical violence, sexual violence, childhood abuse, genocide, natural disaster, terrorism, and generally anything that may put someone’s physical and emotional safety at risk. Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts and feelings about self or others
- Arousal and reactive symptoms such as irritability, anger, reckless or self-destructive behaviors, startle response, difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
While we know PTSD can happen to anyone experiencing a traumatic event, PTSD is a common diagnosis among veterans. How common is PTSD in veterans? The number of veterans diagnosed with PTSD varies by service era:
- Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom = between 11-20% experience PTSD in a given year.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm) = approximately 12% experience PTSD in a given year.
- Vietnam War = approximately 15% of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS), however it is estimated that about closer to 30% have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Also, there are other considerable environmental and social factors that play into how many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. These factors include one’s own actions and behaviors during combat, the politics around the war, where the war is fought, and the type of enemy you face. One very common cause of PTSD in the military is military sexual trauma (MST). MST is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. Sexual assault happens to both men and women, and occurs during peacetime, training, or war. Among Veterans who use VA health care, about:
- 23% reported sexual assault when in the military.
- 55% of women, and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment during their time in the military.
Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that if you are or know a veteran in your life, they may have experienced some level of PTSD. In most cases, PTSD is treatable, if you have access and resources available to you. More traditional talk therapy and trauma-focused types of therapy are the most highly recommended type of treatment for PTSD. “Trauma-focused” means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning to the individual. These methods utilize a variety of different techniques that help you process the traumatic memories and experience. Specific trauma treatment modalities include:
- Prolonged Exposure (PE): PE teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. It involves talking about your trauma with a licensed and trauma-trained therapist, and facing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT helps you to reframe negative thoughts you have about the trauma. It involves talking with your therapist about the negative thoughts, as well as doing short writing assignments.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR helps you process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).
All of these therapies can help someone who suffers from PTSD work through the trauma, identify and practice skills to help ground them if they’re experiencing flashbacks, maintain relationships, and move forward in their life with less fear.
For some, finding treatment without medication is important. That’s when alternative treatments, such as TMS therapy, can generate a positive outcome if the patient has PTSD that stems from depression. However, medications are also a helpful treatment tool that you can discuss with your medical or psychiatry physician. Oftentimes, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, can be prescribed to help someone cope with PTSD. These generally help with symptoms and can help increase the efficacy of therapy. It’s definitely helpful and reassuring to know that there are numerous treatment options available for PTSD and that you are not alone in this journey.
American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.-e). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
Posttraumatic stress disorder. (2018, August 28). Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.-c). VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.-a). Medications for PTSD. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/meds_for_ptsd.asp