PTSD: The Warrior’s Burden
“My past is an armor I cannot take off. No matter how many times you tell me the war is over.”
- Jessica Katoff
You Are A Warrior:
Every day, men and women struggle with battles no one knows about. These internal pains wage wars we cannot see. In life, there will be things that stick with you. Whether you knew it at the time or not, we all go through periods of struggle. Struggle does not make you weak. It makes you a dynamic warrior. Moreover, you are not alone in it.
Hundreds and thousands of moments make up each of our lives. Like a lake, our lives ebb and flow. We have days of peace, where our waters remain calm. We have days of struggle, where our waters rage. Each event, planned or unplanned, creates a unique experience. Some seem small and leave no residual affects once passed. Others, however, create a ripple. The intensity of this ripple depends on several factors. However, suffice to say, each ripple is different. What may be small to some may create a tidal wave for others. There are also those ripples that appear small at first but increase in power as they go. The affect a ripple can have on your life may be immediate or further down the line.
“A psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.”
PTSD is a psychobiological mental disorder. PSTD typically affects survivors of trauma. Trauma can include a wide array of events. This includes combat experience, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. It can also consist of serious accidents, assaults, abuse and rape. Sudden or major emotional losses can also trigger PTSD.
- US PTSD Statistics:
Since 1980, awareness of PTSD has increased. As more people come forward, awareness spreads. Regrettably, there is still a stigma attached to most mental illnesses. However, PTSD has become more accepted. At present, 70% of US adults have suffered a traumatic experience at some point. That equates to roughly 223.4 million Americans. Of those people, 20% will develop PTSD at some point. In other words, 44.7 million US adults will struggle with PTSDin their lifetime. The National Institute of Health (NIH) collects data on mental health. The NIH estimates that roughly 8% of Americans battle with PTSD each year. That equals 24.4 million Americans actively fighting PTSD annually. That equates to the entire population of Texas. Of those that do suffer from PTSD, 36.6% of them develop into severe cases.
Trauma can happen to anyone, regardless of gender. Roughly 6 out of every 10 men experience serious trauma during their lifetime. Similarly, 2 out of 10 women will suffer a serious trauma in their lives. While 60% of men experience a trauma, only 4% of them will develop PTSD. By comparison, women tend to develop PTSD more often. Of the 50% of women who experience a trauma, 10% will suffer from PTSD.
- Veteran PTSD Statistics:
PTSD was once a term that stigmatized veterans. For many years, society believed PTSD only occurred in weak men. They believed only those who could not handle the battlefield developed PTSD. As a result, it led to a veteran’s open rejection by peers. It led to societal fears of the unstable veteran waiting to explode. Also, a PTSD diagnosis often resulted in removal from combat. In some cases, it resulted in outright discharge from service. Most experts agree that veteran PTSD statistics are higher than reported.
- VA PTSD Facts:
The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) handles most veteran’s health care. The VA reports PTSD statistics tend to correspond to four main groups.
- Vietnam War:
In 1954, the US entered into the Vietnam War. US forces withdrew in 1973. This long and costly war resulted in the death of more than 3 million people. This included more than 58,000 Americans. Roughly, one out of every ten combat soldiers in Vietnam were injured or killed. For the US, the Vietnam War was one of the costliest and most divisive wars. It left deep feelings of resentment across the United States. These feelings were recognized both politically and socially. Vietnam produced 2.6 million combat veterans who actively fought in Vietnam. (In contrast, 8.2 million military veterans served during Vietnam at non-combat sites.) The returning veterans had very little support. Once PTSD became a known mental illness, 15 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans were diagnosed. This occurred at a time when PTSD was still not socially accepted. While it was a legitimate illness, it was still a threat to their careers. Yet 15% of all Vietnam veterans sought help for PTSD. Most mental health experts believe more than 30% of Vietnam veterans struggled with PTSD. In fact, four out of every five Vietnam veterans ended up reporting suffering from PTSD symptoms. Overall, 84.8% of Vietnam veterans with PTSD continue to suffer. While some partial heal, impairments occur even 30 years later.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm):
- Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF):
OIF and OEF are the most recent combat experiences veterans must face. In 2014, roughly 2.7 million troops had combat experience through OIF/OEF. Studies show 11 to 20 of every 100 combat veterans received PTSD diagnoses every year. In 2013 alone, 12,632 of OIF/OEF veterans received a PTSD diagnoses. In fact, between 2002 and 2014, 118,829 of OIF/OEF veterans suffered from diagnosed PTSD. An all-inclusive study in 2014 found a wide range in PTSD rates amongst OIF/OEF. Of these veterans, 9% received a PTSD diagnosis shortly after returning. However, this rate leapt to 31% within a year after returning from deployment.
- Military Sexual Trauma (MST):
MST results from sexual harassment or assault. MST events occur during military service. For many years, sexual trauma that occurred during service was kept quiet. As with many civilians, victims of sexual crimes are often shamed. Sexual harassment can be more than just a dirty joke. Of female veterans who seek VA help, 55 out of 100 report sexual harassment. However, women are not the only ones to report sexual harassment. Out of every 100 men, 38 report sexual harassment to the VA. Sexual assaults are a much more serious offense legally. For females, 23 out of 100 report a sexual assault while on active duty. Please note, while female stats appear higher, more men actually report MST. This is because there are more male service members than female.
Prevention and Help:
Prevention starts with knowing where PTSD comes from. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will develop PSTD. However, there are risks, factors and symptoms that indicate developing PTSD.
- Risk and Resilience:
Several factors make a person predisposed to developing PTSD. Aside from surviving trauma, resulting injuries increase chances of PTSD. Witnessing another person being hurt or dying are also risk factors. Finding or viewing a dead body is also a factor. Childhood traumas can add to a person’s inability to recover. Having a history of mental illness can increase one’s risk. Substance abuse increases this as well. Ongoing feelings of horror, helplessness or stress can make recovery harder. The risk of developing PTSD increases when there is little to no support.
The type of trauma also affects the likelihood of developing PTSD. Rape victims, for example, are 49% likely to develop PTSD as a result. A physical assault makes a person 31.9% more likely to suffer from PTSD. This includes one time or on-going severe beatings. Survivors of serious accidents are 16.8% likely to develop PTSD. Car accident, plane crashes and train wrecks are all examples of this. Being a victim of a shooting leads to a 15.4% risk for developing PTSD. Witnessing a death or serious injury increases PSTD risk 7.3%. This is true whether it is accidental or due to crime. Natural disasters leave survivors 3.8% likely to develop PTSD as well. Hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes are all examples.
There are also factors that make a person less likely to develop PTSD. Much of that relates to an person’s resilience. In other words, this relates to one’s ability to recover. Support plays a large role in a person’s resilience after a trauma. Whether your support comes from friends, family or groups, having someone you can talk to helps. Building positive coping strategies can help reduce the impacts of trauma. These strategies help you work through any negative symptoms related to that trauma. They also turn the trauma into learning situations as well. It can also increase feelings of self-assurance. A coping strategies help reduce negative thoughts. Furthermore, they increase one’s confidence in their response to danger.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries and PTSD:
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur like any other injury. Unlike other injuries, however, a TBI can have significant impacts. Our brains control our entire system. An injury to the brain can affect all aspects of life as you know it. Unlike other injuries, damages to your brain can alter who you are. They can affect your temperament and mental abilities. Annually, more than 1,700,000 Americans will suffer a TBI. Studies show that 19% of all veterans have a TBI. Of OIF/OEF veterans alone, over 260,000 have suffered a TBI. Many of the symptoms of a TBI are the same as those for PTSD. While many people who suffer from a TBI do have PTSD, this is not always true. Please discuss your symptoms with a trained expert. Certain medications used to treat PTSD should not be used if you also have a TBI. It is important to discuss your injuries, symptoms and issues with a professional to ensure you receive the best treatment.
- PTSD-Related Suicides:
In 2012, studies reported over 5,000 combat veterans with PTSD committed suicide. Of rape victims, 22% with PTSD diagnoses attempted suicide. As noted above, 36.6% of PTSD diagnoses are “severe” in nature. Experts state that “severe” diagnoses include “at-risk for suicide” symptoms.
PTSD can have devastating effects. This does not only apply to the person suffering from it. Loved ones who watch a person go through PTSD are a part of the struggle. Many of the emotions that surround a person’s internal struggle with PTSD deal with loneliness. You are not alone. Your loved ones may not understand your pain, but they absolutely hurt with you. This is especially true when PTSD results in suicide or suicide attempts. Loved ones of those who commit suicide are also at risk for developing PTSD. In addition, they become more likely to commit suicide too. Studies report loved ones of suicide victims are twice as likely to kill themselves.
- Know the Signs:
A doctor trained in mental illnesses can diagnose and treat patients with PTSD. These include counselors, psychiatrist and psychologist. There are four sets of symptoms attributed to PTSD. For a clinical PTSD diagnosis, patients must demonstrate each symptom type. These symptoms must last for at least one month.
- When people think about PTSD, they typically picture these symptoms. Examples of these are flashbacks, nightmares and night terrors. Flashbacks are moments where you relive the traumatic event repeatedly. These can include physical reactions, such as sweating or a racing heart. Frightening thoughts are also types of re-experiencing symptoms. Consider a rape victim for example. They may be unable to feel safe in blue rooms if their trauma occurred in one. Re-experiencing typically encompass momentary loss of presence.
- Avoidance symptoms are related to PTSD. However, these symptoms can be misdiagnosed. A sudden loss of interest in things that once mattered is an avoidance symptom. It can be indicative of PTSD, depression, or other issues. Feelings of numbness, guilt or depression are avoidance symptoms too. Typically, avoidance symptoms trigger when they remind someone of the trauma.
Hyper-Arousal or Reactivity Symptoms:
- Hyper-arousal symptoms are often sudden reactions or outburst. Intense feelings of tension, odd outbursts and sudden fear are examples. Difficulty sleeping is another hyper-arousal symptom. Reactivity symptoms demonstrate sensitivity between causes and reactions. However, unlike avoidance symptoms that require specific triggers, these symptoms are typically constant. These feelings add a layer of continuous stress that make daily tasks hard. Because of this, hairpin issues can cause sudden outbursts. What many would consider a small trigger can cause a dramatic response in someone with PTSD.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms:
- Cognition and mood symptoms may not appear for weeks or even months. They may begin slowly but increase in severity over time. Trouble remembering key features of a trauma is a cognitive symptom. You may not be able to consciously handle the details of the event. This is the mind’s way of protecting you from further trauma. Negative thoughts about yourself or the world are mood symptoms. Furthermore, distorted feelings of intense guilt or blame are PTSD symptoms too.
ASD vs. PTSD:
Acute stress disorder (ASD) is similar to PTSD. In fact, many of the symptoms of ASD and PTSD are the same. ASD, however, occurs within the first month after a traumatic event. By comparison, a PTSD diagnosis occurs after a month of symptoms. ASD symptoms also include feelings of extreme confusion. Often, this is due to not knowing where you are. It can also feel as if you are no longer in your own body. These two disorders can exist independent of each other. However, they both increase the likelihood of developing the other. Studies show that 80% of those diagnosed with ASD develop PTSD within six months. Only 4% to 13% of individuals not diagnosed with ASD develop PTSD after a trauma.
Despite feelings of brokenness, fear and guilt – there is help for warriors with PTSD. Treatment for PTSD includes psychotherapy, medication or both. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help combat PTSD. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can too. Exposure therapy is also used. Exposure therapy slowly reintroduces a person to trauma. This helps them to experience the trauma in gradual, more manageable steps. A qualified expert can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. However, before this can occur, a person who may have PTSD needs to come forward. Current estimates indicate that only 50% of all warriors suffering from PTSD seek help. Only 21% of these people will receive even minimally adequate treatment as a result.
The VA offers a free screening online for service members. (Anyone can use the screening. The questions apply to military service, but they can relate to you as well. The question may read, “Do you have nightmares about your military service?” However, read it in relation to your trauma. Imagine it reads, “Do you have nightmares about your assault?”) This service is anonymous. The results provided at the end can be printed and brought with you to a professional if desired. (Note: The VA also provides free depression, substance abuse and alcohol abuse screenings as well.)
There are plenty of opportunities to give back to the community. Just sitting down and listening to someone struggling with PTSD can help them. It provides them with an outlet and another means of support. However, there are others way to help. The PTSD Foundation of America, for example, helps provide healing opportunities to the military community. They are a faith-based, mentoring service that works with individuals and groups. Pets for Vets, by comparison, helps veterans suffering from PTSD by pairing them with shelter dogs. This helps bother veterans and animals and provides training and companionship for both. Locally, you can find many volunteer opportunities through the VA, churches, and community events. Suicide hotlines are also great volunteer opportunities given the rate of suicide amongst those with PTSD.
DW likes to give back as well. With every shirt you purchase, Dynamic Warriors donates to Veteran charities. Proceeds help us help the community around us. Furthermore, wearing our clothes shows people you support your veterans too.
Dynamic Warriors (DW):
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold store inside you.”
- Maya Angelou
DW wants to make it clear to all: having PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It never has been and it never will be. We understand that everyone reacts to trauma differently. Just as each of us have varying strengths, we all have areas where we struggle more than others do. DW stands by our brothers and sisters who suffer the effects of trauma. You are dynamic warriors. Regardless of the trauma, you are an inspiration. Never doubt that. Moreover, you are never alone in this. Together, we can continue to make a difference in how people view PTSD. Together, we can find ways to heal. Together, we can get through this.