On Nov. 11, we will honor the men and women who served our country, and acknowledge their heroism and sacrifices that have helped protect our freedoms since our nation’s birth.
However, their patriotism and service comes at a very high price, especially for those who have been involved in military conflicts. Many of these heroes struggle long after they have been discharged with the real and daunting effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder .
Because of PTSD, many veterans a experience nightmares and flashbacks as they relive traumatic events they experienced on the battlefield, which have become seared in their memories and are adversely affecting their mental health.
In one major study of 60,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 13.5% screened positive for PTSD, while other studies show the rate to be as high as 20% to 30%. As many as 500,000 U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to the study.
And, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found differences among African American and white Vietnam theater Veterans in terms of readjustment after military service. Black male Vietnam Veterans had higher rates of PTSD than whites. Rates of current PTSD in the study were 21% among African Americans, and 14% among whites.
“For those veterans who are struggling with PTSD, they are often affected in many different ways,” said Dr. Luis Sandoval, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, headquartered in Pasadena. “They all have one thing in common, however. They often experience significant challenges when it comes to handling daily activities such as work, going to school or having healthy relationships with their spouse, children, friends and loved ones. That can often lead to shame, anxiety, social withdrawal, sleep disorders, or even suicide.”
Dr. Sandoval noted the simplest triggers can make someone with PTSD feel like their nervous system becomes hijacked by a panic reaction, and that can cause you to fight (get angry), flight (avoid) or freeze (feel numb).
Certain factors increase the chances of someone developing PTSD, Dr. Sandoval added. They include having directly witnessed or repeatedly experienced the aftermath of a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event, which is common among many veterans.
According to Dr. Sandoval, doing the following may improve a person’s path to recovery from PTSD:
- Always attend scheduled counseling sessions and doctor’s appointments.
- In times of anxiety, reassure and comfort yourself.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and illegal drug use, as they can raise your anxiety level and cause problems with sleeping.
- Make sure you get sufficient rest.
- Use proven relaxation techniques.
- Get involved in your community.
Dr. Sandoval emphasized the importance of knowing when to seek help. That’s because there are times when PTSD can cause severe anxiety and other challenges that require medical attention to ensure good mental health.
“If you have thoughts of hurting or injuring yourself or others, then call 911 right away,” he stressed. “Also, if you feel your state of mental health isn’t improving, or if your symptoms get worse, then you should contact your health care provider. Remember, there’s no shame is seeking help.”
Kaiser Permanente offers valuable care instructions for those with PTSD.