It is estimated that approximately 30% of women and men who spend time in a war zone will exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some time in their lives. Diagnosis of PTSD is difficult because the three basic symptoms that must be present can occur all together or separated by years and may be masked within a variety of other physical and mental health problems. Most Veterans survive PTSD and given time, return to a normal life style. For those of our beloved Veterans who do not, their loved ones need to recognize the symptoms of PTSD in order to guide them towards the help they need.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder from either an actual traumatic experience or witnessing a life threatening event, for example, in this article, military combat or related combat events. The most common treatment is Psychotherapy and/or prescribed medication. It is believed early treatment may help in preventing long term effects of physical and mental health disorders, such as, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and memory and cognition issues. Untreated, PTSD can manifest itself through an inability for the Veteran to function in family and social situations, to maintain employment, and to cope with martial problems and parenting issues.
PTSD is described through three basic symptoms: 1) The reliving of the traumatic experience or “flashback,” 2) the symptom of avoidance and numbing, and 3) the arousal symptom. In order for PTSD to be diagnosed all three symptoms must be exhibited; they must last at least one month; and, they must be disruptive to home and work life. The unfortunate thing is it could take years before all the symptoms show themselves. Let us examine the three basic symptoms:
The reliving of the traumatic experience or “flashback”
The key word under this symptom is “trigger.” The “trigger” is that event or thing that brings back the traumatic experience with all the fears, helplessness and feelings of horror to be relived once again. Example: The Vietnam Combat Vet who takes his wife to see “The Saving of Private Ryan” at the movie’s initial release in the theaters with the new digital surround sound. The scene was the beach landing with the bullets pinging and zinging everywhere. His wife taps him on the shoulder and says, “Honey get off the floor. It’s only the movie.” Boy was I embarrassed.
The symptom of avoidance and numbing
These seem to be two separate symptoms but they are related. Avoidance is the recognition of perceived “triggers” which may cause the traumatic event to be relived. This may be certain television programs or movies, sights or even smells.
Numbing is the building of emotional “walls” which block the feelings of fear, helplessness and horror. These emotional “walls” also block all other feelings. So as a spouse, you might want to say, “Why don’t you love me anymore.” The Vet still loves you. He or she is probably just trying to save themselves through blocked emotional responses.
The arousal symptom
This symptom occurs from always having to be alert in a combat zone both day and night, even while at sleep which is a twilight sleep, that is, hearing everything that is going on around you for a fast reaction if needed. The arousal symptom manifests itself through trouble sleeping, outbursts of anger, frustrations over little things, difficulty concentrating and irritability.
PTSD is very real and affects many of our war zone Veterans is one way or another. It is only by being aware of the problem and its symptoms that we may help those who need it. PTSD can only be diagnosed and treated by a health care professional, but through our awareness of this problem we can extend the compassion our heroes deserve and guide them towards professional help.