The statistics about military personnel suffering with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are significant, and all branches of the military are creating and implementing programs to address the needs of our soldiers. According to a 2009 report by the National Center for PTSD, PTSD occurs in around 10% of Gulf War veterans, 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan wars veterans and in 30% of Vietnam veterans. Additional statistics include the following:
- According to the U.S. Army, the number of soldiers forced to leave the Army solely because of a mental illness, such as PTSD, increased by 64% from 2005 to 2009.
- The 2009 Rand Report estimates 26% of returning troops may have mental health conditions.
PTSD is a disorder that is clearly affecting millions of people and estimates suggest that PTSD-related and major depression-related costs could lead to billions of dollars in costs over the years.
The U.S. Veterans Administration looks for indicators of PTSD including the following:
- Exposure to a traumatic event in which the person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others and the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror
- A traumatic event that is persistently re-experienced via recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts or perceptions, in recurrent distressing dreams of the event, or reliving the experience with illusions, hallucinations and associative flashback episodes
- Experiencing intense psychological distress and physiological reactions to exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble the traumatic event, including persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma or numbing of general responsiveness
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, activities, places, people or conversations associated with the trauma and an inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
- Diminished interest or participation in activities and feeling detached from others
- A sense of a shortened future or thoughts of suicide
When these criteria are present, the Veterans Administration refers the soldier to treatment options for PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
While many people experience symptoms of PTSD, military personnel often experience these symptoms with a focus toward their military experiences. The symptoms can include the following:
- Depression – Military personnel often feel a sense of helplessness along with depression, especially when it comes to unresolved military experiences such as Vietnam. The outcome of a war that is perceived as being futile and the lack of support the soldiers received upon returning home may only increase their sense of despair. As a result, self-medication was often used as a coping mechanism and substance use increased during times of depression.
- Isolation – Many military personnel feel that their civilian friends and family members are not interested in war stories. In fact, many react with fear or horror when they hear about the actions that these soldiers performed for the sake of survival. These reactions can increase the soldiers’ sense of isolation.
- Conflicting emotions – Soldiers may experience rage, alienation, survival guilt and anxiety.
A common reaction to these symptoms is to self-medicate and withdraw from friends and family. Instead, these symptoms should be addressed and resolved.