Fight or flight: the veterans at war with PTSD
Fighting the War Against PTSD
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By Harry Croft, MD, Special to Everyday Health
They spent many long months away from family and friends, and constantly put their lives on the line in the name of freedom. And for many veterans, the leadership training and skills acquired are going to have huge payoffs in corporate America and small business, but for many others it’s a different story – a story best described as a war in itself.
One in five veterans deployed in combat suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The violence, bloodshed and constant stress of the combat theater is an environment nobody should have to endure, because the psychological and mental tolls in the aftermath of combat change a person and not for the better. The symptoms of PTSD usually become apparent once the veteran enters back into the civilian world, but unfortunately many people from the soldier’s family physician to loved ones often miss the signs, playing them off as a ‘rough patch’ or ‘phase’ that will simply pass over time.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, along with the most common life situations where it can cause a problem:
- Marriage and family relationships. If there’s one symptom that impacts families and marriages more than any other, it’s irritability and sudden, unexplained anger. It’s the hair-trigger temper, the intolerance for even the smallest of problems and the determination to make major issues out of minor ones.
- Absent from major life events. A veteran suffering from PTSD will often have trouble with crowds and miss special occasions such as weddings, graduations, school or church functions, birthdays, reunions, funerals, etc.
- Trouble on the job. PTSD can cause a veteran to have trouble with memory, concentration or clear thinking. It may cause states of hyperarousal or hypervigilance which leads to workplace distractions. PTSD sufferers may also feel “over-controlled” by a boss which can render them more vulnerable to stress reactions on the job leading to increased absence or disappearance from their work station. Agitation at those who do not follow the rules often leads to the veteran being labeled as a “trouble maker,” and result in firing or lack of promotion.
- Self-doubt. Warriors with PTSD will doubt their skills, the sufficiency of their actions in combat, and the correctness of the life-death decisions they have made. They doubt the value of what they themselves have sacrificed; whether it was right to go to war; if they acted properly by firing or not firing their weapons; and they doubt their role in their own families, communities and their units. Often if others they were around died, they feel guilty that they survived. They also doubt their very acceptability before God.
- Re-experiencing the traumatic events. Flashbacks, recurrent nightmares and undesired recollections and thoughts; emotional and body reactions to smells, sounds, sights and internal physical feelings; intense distress at exposure to things or events that are in some way similar to the traumas that were actually experienced. These re-experiencing events can cause reactions that others see as “bizarre.”
- Avoidance of reminders. Those with PTSD will avoid anything: people, places, questions from others, movies about war, and even news reports about war or violence. They may get upset with family members or others who even ask questions about their combat experiences.
If you’re a veteran or a loved one of a veteran and suspect PTSD, it’s important to understand there is no reason to suffer when help is available. Recovery from PTSD is very possible, and the sooner treatment begins the faster recovery can take place. Don’t give into the myths or societal stigmas around PTSD or mental illness, either. Whether it’s the VA, your primary care physician or a mental health expert, there are plenty of resources that can help you regain control of your life.
Harry Croft, MD, is a former Army doctor and psychiatrist who has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD. He is author of the bookI Always Sit With My Back To The Wall.He is on a national speaking tour providing Continuing Medical Education to primary care physicians on recognizing the signs of PTSD in their veteran patients.
Video: The fight to help veterans battling PTSD
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