On Memorial Day: Support Troops Returning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – is a form of anxiety created after witnessing or experiencing an event that involved threat of injury or loss of life. In recent years, PTSD has gained more notice as troops from Afghanistan and Iraq returned home, sometimes after multiple tours of duty. While they were grateful to be back safe and sound, the events of combat created PTSD and resulted in troubled re-adjustment to civilian life. In extreme cases, PTSD has been noted in cases involving homicide and suicide.

You’re not morally or psychologically “weak” if you have PTSD

We expect too much from our soldiers. We can not expect them to shrug off the horrors of war without needing some form of therapy or group counseling with other veterans. In fact, the presence of PTSD in a soldier is evident of a healthy mind that suffered extreme stress, opposed to someone who returns with little perspective other than the number of enemies they killed. The latter case would be an instance of sociopathic tendencies that should immediately raise red flags. There is a difference between doing one’s duty and having callous disregard for human life; enemy or not.

Troops from World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam didn’t have PTSD – is this pop psychology or the result of coddling our youth?

No. Not in the least. The fact to the matter is, PTSD in troops has occurred in every war, we just didn’t recognize it as a sign of psychological stress until recently.

Sadly, our relatives who returned from major wars in the past few decades had little to no psychological support. What inevitably resulted? Alcoholism. Extreme depression. Suicide. Family dysfunction. Paranoia. Flashbacks. Extreme anxiety.

The fact that Uncle John “drank World War 2 away with Jim Bean and Jack Daniels” is neither healthy nor ultimately productive for his family. What might have been a typical case of PTSD went unchecked, and it resulted in an immense toll on John’s family, his relatives, friends, and children. Ask any child of a troubled former soldier what their father or mother should have done after the war, and most will say “get counseling”. Drinking, drugging, and denial ARE NOT viable solutions.

Mental Illness Still Has a Stigma Attached to it in the USA, particularly for our troops

In the USA, we like to think we are super strong, super confident, super tough, go-getters who feel nothing other than our own success and pride. The fact is, buried beneath this jingoistic hubris, we are still all human beings with feelings, emotions, and souls.

That you feel disturbed after watching your platoon mates dismembered during an IED detonation is completely NORMAL.

That you feel intense fear after losing a limb or taking a bullet in the line of duty is completely NORMAL.

That you can’t wrap your head around “normal American life” after spending several intense months witnessing the awful effects of war is completely NORMAL.

Those who deny these feelings are kidding themselves. They are compartmentalizing their lives and will eventually deteriorate, or spend the rest of their lives in a diminished state of living, forever haunted by what they experienced.

PTSD and other post-war psychological stress is best treated immediately, regularly, and among other veterans who know what you experienced. You don’t have lie on the couch of a psychiatrist and spill your guts. Instead, look for support groups, stay in touch with your military friends, and promise yourself you will do everything humanly possible to work through the stress.

One particularly successful method of treating PTSD doesn’t involve traditional notions of therapy at all. In fact, veterans are instead teamed with a trained dog who acts as a companion and helper. It might sound a little flaky to some people, but it has been extremely successful for some of the worst cases of post-war PTSD. Best of all, having an animal companion with you to help navigate day-to-day activities is nothing unusual or suspicious to other civilians: they see a man or woman with an attentive pet, not someone who is “weak” or otherwise deficient in character.

Before setting foot on the battlefield, our soldiers were unique individuals with various personality traits, personal histories, and stressors in their lives. Adding a traumatic experience to anyone’s “psychological history” will undoubtedly cause some disturbance in what is perceived as reality. Some of the toughest people on the outside are actually terrified inside. Their rough exteriors seems impressive and encouraging to others, but there is a cost to faking your way through life as if nothing bothers you.

If you or a family member has recently returned from war and are having trouble re-adjusting to life, you are NOT alone and NOT weak. Talk to other veterans and find the nearest meeting, support group, or PTSD screening clinic for a review. You wouldn’t return home with a physical wound left untreated and festering. Don’t ignore your mental struggles either.