The stigma around mental illness, particularly PTSD in veterans, is real. And it does keep people from seeking professional help. Despite frequent conversations about mental health on social media many people still live in a bubble of their old beliefs and misconceptions. To change that we should educate ourselves and others about mental illness and possible treatment options.
How prevalent is PTSD in veterans?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is very common in veterans. In fact, about 13.5 % in 60 thousand Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screened positive for PTSD. Some studies show that this number is even higher – up to 30 %.
Causes of PTSD
What causes PTSD in veterans? Obviously, traumatic experience had to take place for PTSD to emerge, but there are other factors that may play a role:
- Family history of mental illness. Personality features, temperament.
- Racial minority status.
- Higher number of deployments, as well as longer deployments.
- Mild traumatic brain injury.
- Lack of support from friends and family.
Symptoms of PTSD in veterans include but not limited to:
- Flashbacks, spontaneous memories of the traumatic event.
- Irritability, fear, and other negative emotions.
- Sleep problems.
- Aggression, self-destructive behavior
- Avoidance (trying to avoid situations or conversations that remind sufferers about what happened).
- Inability to focus.
As a result, people who suffer from PTSD are at risk of developing depression, anxiety disorder and alcohol/drug addiction. These disorders make their condition even more debilitating. For example, a large national survey revealed that major depressive disorder (MDD) is 3-5 times more likely to emerge in people with PTSD than without.
War veterans account for about 20 % of all suicides in the U.S.
One of the key elements of PTSD in military members that can lead to suicidal ideation is shame. However, despite its destructive nature, people don’t always report feelings of shame. Veterans find it difficult to share their experiences and current struggles with civilians the way the shared it with their colleagues in military. And that is very isolating.
Getting back to civilian world is especially challenging because that’s when PTSD often starts to manifest itself.
Other emotions that veterans often experience are guilt, anger, remorse, and disinterest in previously enjoyable activities.
What is important to realize and talk about is that PTSD is a treatable condition and healing is possible. The earlier a person receives treatment, the better it is for their recovery.
Traumatic experiences cannot be taken away from us, but we can change the way we deal with those destructive thoughts and feelings that come as a result of stressful events.
Nondrug treatment for PTSD in veterans
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be the most effective method of nondrug treatments. There are two types of CBT – cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) therapy that are recommended as a first-line treatment for PTSD.
Cognitive processing therapy
CPT helps people learn to recognize, challenge, and change their unhelpful beliefs about trauma. During CPT therapy sessions clients gain a deeper understanding of how their experiences can influence the way they think about themselves and the world.
When it comes down to trauma, I often use CPT in my practice. Of course, it can be hard to talk about your experiences, but these feelings of discomfort are often brief. If you proceed with the treatment, they will most likely go away. Overall feeling temporary discomfort is better than suffering from PTSD for life. CPT usually involves about 12 sessions (60-90 minutes each). If clients do their “homework”, the outcome is priceless!
Prolonged exposure therapy
During PE therapy sessions patients learn to gradually approach trauma-related memories in a safe environment, since avoidance leads to fear reinforcement. This type of therapy has been effective in about 60 % of veterans suffering from PTSD.
Everyone is different so special evaluation is required for finding the right treatment for you. We do that kind of evaluation in Married to Navy Counseling Services.
Unfortunately, there are many barriers standing in the way to getting PTSD treatment. Stigma is just one of them. Another major one is the lack of provider appointment availability and lack of providers in general. That’s when knowing about Married to Navy Counseling Services may be helpful. We help with not only PTSD, but with anxiety, depression, communication issues, low self-esteem, relationship conflict and much more. To know more about our work, click here.
The most important thing I want you to take out from this post is that healing PTSD is possible, but it will require some time and dedication, as well as your courage, because it does take courage to seek help. Only you can take responsibility for your life and make that next important step to your recovery!
~ Dr. Trenye Black, LMHC, LPCC, LPC, NCC
To make a telehealth appointment with your therapist click here.