Have you ever heard of post-traumatic stress disorder?

It’s a very serious matter which affects a great number of military veterans. It can be difficult to understand this disorder, and even more difficult to get treatment. You may be suffering from PTSD yourself or you may simply want to support a loved one who has PTSD. Either way, this guide is for you.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about PTSD in veterans, and how you can get help.

What Exactly is PTSD in Veterans?

ptsd veterans

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder. It manifests in those who have experienced hyper-traumatic events.

These include military combat, assault (sexual or otherwise), and natural disasters.Events like tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks which cause major physical and/or life-threatening damage may all be causes for PTSD.

In veterans, PTSD is generally caused by horrific wartime experiences. It has long been known that going into battle (or even being stationed in a war zone) can be traumatic.Though we haven’t always called the disorder PTSD, it was first diagnosed in veterans.It was initially referred to as “shell shock”, then war neuroses.

Over the years, the problem has become more prevalent. This not necessarily because it is growing, but because we as a society have become more open and aware of it.

In a 2012 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was revealed that some 30 percent of those veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were suffering from PTSD.

The Department also estimates that 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have suffered PTSD at some point in their lifetime. However, they report that some 15 percent are currently experiencing PTSD. This shows PTSD treatment is possible. But in order to find treatment for a family member or get the treatment you need, you must first understand some of the myths and facts surrounding this disorder.

Myths and Facts Surrounding PTSD in Veterans

There are many myths which surround PTSD. It’s imperative that you understand that these myths are not rooted in any truth. They are rooted in the societal stigma of PTSD, and to some extent all mental disorders.

These are 6 myths about PTSD which have been debunked.

1. Having PTSD Means You Are Weak

Having PTSD does not make you weak. If anything, fighting through this disorder means you have the guts to heal yourself. This myth is probably caused by the general consensus that soldiers must be strong, masculine, and emotionless in order to be effective in wartime. This is also a myth.

2. Having PTSD Means You Are Crazy and Dangerous

Having PTSD does not make you crazy or dangerous. In the majority of cases, PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder and is treated as such. Popular shows and movies have eviscerated PTSD veterans, painting them as psychotic. The truth is that everyone experiences symptoms differently, but PTSD isn’t characterized by physical violence.

3. PTSD May Be Caused by Anything

PTSD is caused by trauma, and this trauma must meet certain criteria. This criteria is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as: “exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence”.

4. Having PTSD Means You Cannot Function in Society

People with PTSD regularly go to work, start families, and even continue with careers in the military. PTSD can be debilitating, but with proper treatment those afflicted may lead normal, fulfilling lives. Having PTSD does not make you “unfit” for any type of work. It just means that you must develop healthy methods of coping with traumatic memories.

5. PTSD is Not a Serious Problem

PTSD is a serious problem. There is a stigma in our country that psychological injury is not a severe problem when compared to physical injury. This means many veterans are afraid to speak out and seek the help they need. If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, rest assured that it is a real problem with real consequences.

6. There is No Help for Those Suffering From PTSD

There are many treatment options for PTSD. The most effective of these include cognitive and other forms of psychotherapy. There are medications which can be prescribed by a doctor to help with PTSD including mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and cardiac or anti-seizure medications to help with calmness.

Causes and Reasons for PTSD in Veterans

PTSD veterans have suffered trauma, defined above by the American Psychiatric Association. PTSD stems from the way your body deals with this trauma. The traumatic stressor could be:

  • Prolonged exposure to a war zone.
  • Witnessing violent death.
  • Being threatened with or subjected to rape or sexual assault.
  • Being threatened with or subjected to torture.
  • Learning about the violent death of a close friend or family member.

PTSD is a form of psychological immobilization. When faced with too much stress, your body and your mind become frozen in an in-between area between fight and flight. Your nervous system is still under pressure to perform in the face of danger.

Your body cannot move past the event, and your nervous system cannot physically return to its previous, unaltered state. PTSD veterans cannot psychologically get out of the war zone, or away from their attackers. The threat is always there.

One of the most overlooked causes of PTSD in veterans is rape and sexual assault while in the military. Make no mistake, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is a very real experience. It does cause PTSD, and bears with it perhaps even more of a stigma than PTSD alone. However, the VA does have counseling resources to help sufferers of MST-related PTSD.

Signs and Symptoms Indicating PTSD in Veterans

It’s important to look for signs and symptoms of PTSD among those you love who have recently returned from combat. If you have recently returned from combat, you may recognize some of these symptoms in yourself.

ptsd veterans

1. Avoidance

PTSD veterans may try not to enter into situation which reminds them of their trauma. This may manifest as something obvious, like avoiding other veterans or friends from the military.
They may not even be able to watch movies about war or the military, because such things trigger awful memories. Using avoidance tactics to escape the traumatic event and the feelings which follow it may also mean not seeking help or working through the issue.

2. Negative Feelings

People suffering from PTSD often find that their feelings, beliefs, and general attitude regarding the world have changed. Once they return from combat, they find that a loving family has been replaced with an enemy. Negativity is all they can feel towards friends, coworkers, and loved ones.
People with PTSD often suffer from intense anger. They may start to become disenfranchised with the government, and start to believe that the world is a bad place. This symptom causes withdrawal from the outside world, paranoia, and depression.

3. Hyper-arousal

One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is a constant state of hyper-arousal. This is basically what happens when your body is in flight-or-fight mode, except it doesn’t present in the face of danger. It presents all the time, sometimes for days.
Hyperarousal is debilitating. It causes aggression, anger, insomnia, paranoia, impulsiveness, panic, and extreme exhaustion. When you are hyper-aroused, you become a different person. You are under extreme duress, except there isn’t any actual danger. This just makes it more and more difficult for the people around you to understand.

4. Flashbacks

Flashbacks happen when a PTSD sufferer begins to relive their trauma. They become very distraught. For them, the trauma is happening all over again. This can happen in the form of nightmares, from which they wake up screaming or distressed.

It can take the form of vivid memories accompanied by visual hallucinations. While awake, the sufferer may see the scene of their trauma all around them, experiencing it all over again. Flashbacks can last for seconds, minutes, hours, or even days in extreme cases.

Best Ways to Treat PTSD in Veterans

The symptoms of PTSD are terrible. Luckily, there are treatments available for those who suffer. These are some of the best ways to treat PTSD in veterans.

Trauma-focused psychotherapy is reportedly the best way to treat PTSD. It’s important to note that while other methods treat the symptoms, psychotherapy goes after the root cause. So how does psychotherapy help a PTSD sufferer?
When you experience PTSD, your brain is unable to move past a traumatic event. You may have outside triggers which cause any number of distress symptoms, or you may live your entire life with these symptoms.
Psychotherapy uses emotional, behavioral, and cognitive training to “rewire’ the way your brain reacts when exposed to the triggers which cause the symptoms. This involves using different psychiatric methods to help you process the particular event, so you can lead a happy and healthy life. There are three main psychotherapies which have been proven to work well for patients:

  •  Prolonged Exposure Therapy: PET allows patients to regain control and aptitude by facing negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings caused by PTSD. In PET, you’ll talk about your trauma and face triggers which cause bad reactions.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: CPT teaches patients to change the way they view their trauma and the emotions which come with it. In CPT, you’ll discuss your negative emotions and complete therapeutic writing assignments.
  • Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: EMDR aids patients in organizing and making sense of traumatic events. In this therapy you’ll go through the story of your trauma while your attention is focused on another point, such as a moving object, light, or sound.

There are many other forms of psychotherapy to treat PTSD, but these forms are the most common and the most highly recommended. You must perform these therapies under medical supervision and with a licensed practitioner. They may take months or years to complete.

Antidepressants

antidepressants

If you choose to see a psychiatrist for your PTSD, he or she may prescribe you any number of antidepressants.
These are almost always prescribed along with psychotherapy. This is because while antidepressants may help with some of the symptoms of PTSD, they alone cannot take away the emotions associated with the specific trauma.
Antidepressants are normally only useful to a patient when they are used in conjunction with psychotherapy. These medications include Zoloft, Prozac, and other SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs. They are traditionally used to treat depression, but in the case of PTSD patients help out with aggression, compulsion, and extreme negativity.

Antipsychotics, Mood Stabilizers, and Benzodiazepines

In extreme cases of PTSD, you may be suffering from psychotic breaks with reality or extreme paranoia. In this case, a doctor may prescribe antipsychotic drugs. This will most likely be a short-term solution as you go through psychotherapy.

In patients where intense anger and irritability are the main manifestations of PTSD, a psychiatrist may prescribe a mood stabilizer. On a mood stabilizer, you will find that the intensity of your emotions is dulled. You may begin to experience normal reactions again.

If you are suffering from anxiety so debilitating you cannot function in everyday life, your doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine like Xanax as an anti-anxiety drug. Usually this is a very short-term solution. It is becoming less and less popular with medical professionals, because of issues with dependency on the drug.
It’s important to remember that any medication you are prescribed will take some time to work. Results are not immediate, so don’t get discouraged. The drugs will help with your symptoms, but sometimes you have to try a few of them to see what works. Psychotherapy is so far the only proven method to attack PTSD at the source.

Consequences of Untreated PTSD in Veterans

It is estimated that one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD. There is no mandatory screening process for the disorder. Sometimes, people don’t even know that they are affected.
In a study using patients who had suffered from PTSD in the war of former Yugoslavia, it was found that 83.7 percent still had PTSD nearly a decade later. That means PTSD doesn’t go away on its own. It needs to be treated. What happens if it’s not?

PTSD often leads to the deterioration of mental health. Consequences include the development of disorders like depression. Isolation, marital and familial problems, substance abuse, unemployment, and suicide are all risks of untreated PTSD.
It is imperative that we begin to think about PTSD as a national problem requiring both individual treatment and a widespread change in the system. Thinking about it only on an individual level ignores the wider consequences.
These consequences include rising levels of homelessness, drug addiction, and unemployment for those people who have given over their lives to the country we call home. Such consequences are unacceptable.

Talking to a Family Member About PTSD

military happy family

If you believe you have PTSD, you need to get help. PTSD may manifest in many forms, and for quite a few different reasons. However, it can be difficult to speak to a loved one or a family member about PTSD. How can you do it while ensuring that you won’t be judged?

Remember that your loved ones are just that — loved ones. It is normal to return from combat with some form of PTSD, even a severe one. You will feel differently when you come home than you did when you left, and your family will understand. If you reach out for help, family will accept you.

It’s difficult to admit you have PTSD, but you will be surprised at the loving and caring way in which you are treated by friends and family. It’s impossible to get through PTSD alone. You need a combination of resources, and that includes a support system you can count on. 

Additional Resources Which May Help Veterans with PTSD
So, what now? Where do you begin seeking treatment and gathering up learning resources about PTSD? Healthcare sponsored by the government is available for all veterans who have served in combat zones and may have wartime-related PTSD.

You’ll need to locate the closest VA clinic and get into contact with health providers there in order to take advantage of the VA healthcare you deserve.

Seeking help online, joining a support group, or participating in group therapy are all helpful for those suffering from PTSD.

If your loved one or family member is the one experiencing PTSD, there are ways you can help:

  • Learn about PTSD and understand why and how it happens. It will help you to deal with unpleasant emotions if you understand why they are there.
  • Be there to talk and listen to your family member, so they don’t feel alone.
  • Don’t stop spending time with them because of their issues, but be supportive if they feel like being alone.
  • Do physical activities together. Oftentimes, exercise can relieve some of the stress associated with PTSD.
  • Encourage your loved one to seek the help of a medical professional. If he or she does decide to go, go with them.

Get Control of Your Life with PTSD Treatment

If you’re suffering from PTSD, you are not alone. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Visit your local VA today to start the healing process. Healing from PTSD isn’t easy, but it is possible. And always remember – you are worth it!

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