PTSD is a diagnosable mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, like sexual assault, combat, a car accident or even childhood abuse. Military veterans and service members are at risk for developing PTSD. In the case of military veterans, PTSD often surfaces after participation in military combat while on active duty or as a result of being the victim of sexual harassment while in or after military service. Most of the time, survivors of traumatic events return to normal lives if they are given time to recover and have a solid support system. Some people, however, have intense stress reactions that either do not go away or even get worse with time. These individuals may develop symptoms of PTSD that require treatment by a certified medical professional.
PTSD is a recognized medical diagnosis that first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980. PTSD actually became a mental health diagnosis through the influence of a number of social movements and governmental advocacy groups. Mental disorders associated with trauma have been reported since the time of the ancient Greeks. PTSD was commonly referred to as “shell shock” or “combat neurosis” before the phrase PTSD was coined during the 1970s in response to the number of Vietnam War veterans who experienced symptoms after serving in the military during combat. Estimates indicate that between 11-20% of all veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan have military service-related PTSD in a given year. About 12% of all Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD in a given year. Shockingly, an estimated 30% of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD during their lifetimes. PTSD has a significant prevalence in the United States. It does not discriminate based on gender, affecting both male and female veterans. Symptoms of PTSD can occur during peacetime, training or war and affect nearly 8 million American adults each year, not all of whom are military personnel.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD can develop immediately after a traumatic event or even years following exposure to a traumatic event. There are a variety of symptoms of PTSD but they are generally grouped into four primary clusters. These include:
- Recurrent, intrusive thoughts of the traumatic event. These commonly manifest as nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event, making the person feel like the event is happening all over again. People who experience these thoughts may experience physical and emotional reactions like panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking and rapid heart rate.
- Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic experience. This includes avoidance not only of people but places, thoughts and even situations that the person associates with memories of the traumatic event. This symptom can be accompanied by withdrawing from friends and family and loss of interest in everyday activities.
- Negative thoughts and/or feelings. Service members who suffer from PTSD often experience exaggerated negative beliefs about the entire world. They may also suffer from survivor’s guilt and/or shame. Family members may notice an inability or difficulty of the person to experience positive emotions.
- Irritable behavior. People with PTSD often become emotionally reactive to certain situations. People who suffer from PTSD often act irritable or angry and can display reckless behavior, have difficulty sleeping and concentrating or experience hypervigilance.
PTSD can often increase your risk of other mental health problems including depression, substance abuse, lapses in memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health problems.
How is PTSD Treated?
With advances in modern medicine and medication, there are several effective and forms of mental health care available to treat combat veterans and veterans who are experiencing PTSD. In fact, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has been integral in developing and testing many PTSD treatments. Most VA health care facilities offer all different sorts of mental health services. Veterans interested in their mental health treatment options should take a look at the resources available on VA.gov, including information on pages compiled by the VA’s National Center for PTSD.
The most effective approach to treating PTSD is psychotherapy. Psychotropic medications, especially when combined with talk therapy, are also beneficial in PTSD treatment. Additionally, some studies indicate that veterans with PTSD may benefit from coping methods that they can practice independently, without the help of clinicians or mental health providers.
What are the Specific Types of Treatment for PTSD?
The American Psychological Association (APA.org) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA.gov) strongly recommend the following PTSD treatment options and practice guidelines:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on how thoughts, feelings, and actions influence one another. The goal of CBT is to change patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors about the traumatic experience and related subjects. A related but different approach called cognitive therapy focuses on changing painful memories about the traumatic event that affect daily functioning.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This type of therapy strives to help people develop use critical thinking to understand their traumatic experiences.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This form of therapy involves recalling the trauma while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound controlled by the clinician.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE): This approach focuses on progressively challenging negative feelings and altering patterns of avoidance as a result of a person’s traumatic event.
There are also some psychotropic medications that have been demonstrated to be effective treatment options for people with PTSD. These prescription medicines can be combined with psychotherapy in a multifaceted approach to PTSD treatment. Medication is typically prescribed by a doctor or psychiatry.
There are four antidepressants that have the strongest clinical support for treating PTSD. They include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Only a qualified medical professional can prescribe medication for the treatment of PTSD and is typically recommended in conjunction with other mental health services.
What Else Works for Coping With and Managing PTSD Symptoms?
Outside of traditional medicine, several “self-help” methods are helpful in managing PTSD symptoms. These alternative practices are recommended by mental health experts to use as a complement to ongoing mental health treatment. They are:
- Physical activity: Exercise is a proven stress reliever. Exercise also helps to elevate mood.
- Aromatherapy: Smells like orange essential oil are proven to mitigate negative emotions associated with PTSD.
- Mindfulness practices: From formal meditation to simply noticing one’s senses, practicing being present can reduce trauma reactivity.
- Deep breathing: Available anytime, anywhere, this easy technique can be surprisingly effective.
Despite the wide variety of treatment options, veterans face barriers to medical treatment. They must have either an honorable or general discharge to access Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical benefits. Unfortunately, there can be long waiting lists at VA medical centers for treatment. However, there are nearly 200 PTSD treatment programs across the United States that offer:
- Mental health assessments and testing to figure out if you have PTSD
- Medicine that is proven to work for treating PTSD
- Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy). This includes proven methods like those therapies mentioned above.
- Family therapy
- Group therapy for special needs, like anger or stress management, or combat support
- Group therapy for Veterans who served in certain combat zones
If you or a loved one have symptoms of PTSD and suffered a serious injury, personal trauma, sexual trauma, or were threatened with injury, sexual assault, or death while serving in the military, you may be able to get disability compensation or benefits. Contact Hill and Ponton at 844-715-4289 to schedule your free consultation to learn if you are receiving the proper benefits and help for your condition.
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