Every day men and women in the military put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and freedoms of their fellow countrymen. These brave men and women pay a steep price for their service, spending time away from their loved ones and putting themselves at risk of long-term physical and mental injuries.
Many men and women, even those who never served in the military, are aware of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. Combat veterans are vulnerable to PTSD, and the percentage of veterans who deal with it each day is alarming. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as many as 20 percent of veterans who served during Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom have PTSD. In addition, the USDVA notes that estimates now suggest as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Though it’s not exclusive to men and women who have served in the military, PTSD has long been linked to combat veterans. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association notes that PTSD has been referred to as “shell shock” and “combat fatigue” in the past.
While the APA notes that a diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an upsetting traumatic event, that exposure can be indirect rather than firsthand. Because some people may assume that only firsthand exposure to trauma can lead to PTSD, many may be suffering in silence. That makes it all the more important that people learn to recognize the symptoms of PTSD. According to the APA, symptoms of PTSD, which can vary in severity, fall into four categories.
- Intrusive thoughts: Flashbacks, distressing dreams and repeated, involuntary memories are examples of intrusive thoughts symptomatic of PTSD. The APA notes that some people with PTSD experience flashbacks so vivid that they feel they are reliving the traumatic experience or that it is unfolding before their eyes.
- Avoiding reminders: Some people with PTSD may avoid people, places, activities, objects, or situations they feel will trigger distressing memories. Soldiers, for example, may avoid interacting with fellow combat veterans. Avoiding discussions about a traumatic event and how they feel about it is another symptom of PTSD.
- Negative thoughts and feelings: The APA says that negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others; ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame; considerably diminished interest in activities previously enjoyed; and a sense of estrangement and detachment from others.
- Arousal and reactive symptoms: These symptoms may include irritability and angry outbursts; reckless or self-destructive behavior; being easily startled; or have difficulty concentrating or sleeping.