Military service in a combat region such as Afghanistan will increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is a much higher incidence of PTSD among combat veterans than among the general public.
Non-combat personnel in a war zone are also at greater risk of developing PTSD following their service, if they are exposed to traumatic events such as witnessing battlefield wounds. While many soldiers develop PTSD following their service, others do not. There are other risk factors involved that make some individuals more susceptible to developing PTSD.
Risk Factors for Developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Combat experience is a major risk factor for developing PTSD. Other risk factors that will increase the chance of a combat veteran developing PTSD include the following:
- Prior experiences with abuse or violence; previously suffering or witnessing emotional, physical or sexual trauma increases the likelihood of developing PTSD following combat
- Growing up in a violent or abusive household
- Having been the victim of bullying in school
- A history of depression
- Genetic predisposition or a family history of PTSD
- Proximity to and severity and duration of trauma; the worse the trauma, the longer it lasts and the closer the person is to it the greater the chance that he or she will develop PTSD
Supporting a Returning Veteran to Prevent or Address PTSD
Receiving support from family and friends upon homecoming and while reintegrating into society helps reduce the chance of developing PTSD and assists in recovery if the disorder does develop. This helps explain why PTSD is so common among veterans of Vietnam War. Vietnam vets consistently report feeling unappreciated and even despised upon returning from the war.
Vietnam vets also have a higher incidence of substance abuse, addiction, depression and suicide. Many combat veterans returning from Afghanistan feel that the public doesn’t know or care about what they went through. This feeling of isolation can greatly increase the risk of developing PTSD.
You can help your soldier avoid PTSD after he or she returns from Afghanistan by doing the following:
- Make sure that he or she feels the love and support of family and friends
- Show your soldier that you understand the difficult situation he or she was in and appreciate the sacrifices he or she made
- Offer to talk or to listen about war-related experiences
- Get in touch with veterans’ support groups
- Contact a therapist with experience treating PTSD