U.S. Troops and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

About 1.5 weeks ago, I was watching Dr. Sajay Gupta on CNNptsd talking on the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Iraq and Afganistan soldiers and veterans. The statistics may or may not surprise you, but they did me! My immediate thought was ‘they (the soldiers) need to be offered the best of services…they’ve given up so much and receive nothing in return, except a lifetime of pain (and not just physical), turmoil and suffering.”‘ The psychological and psychic scarring and horror that occurs from war, damages not only the troops, but their families, friends and communities, with the heaviest destruction on the soldiers. We should be, no, need to be, concerned for and about them. 

Here’s a few stats:

  • 1 in 5 (!) US veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan suffer from symptoms of PTSD, major depression and anxiety. Compare this with a prevalence of 4 percent for the general U.S. population (2005, Archives of General Psychiatry)
  • Only slightly more than half of them seek treatment (April 2008 RAND Corp study)
  • According to a May 2008 CNN report, the number of troops diagnosed with PTSD jumped about 50% (!) in 2007

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
ptsd1Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that develops after a person goes through an extremely traumatic experience. These traumatic experiences could be caused by reasons such as near-death, serious physical injury, serious accident, violence, war, torture, any event that causes extreme fear, a horrifying event, or when one feels an extreme sense of helplessness.  As you can see, the US troops  in Iraq and Afghanistan, and veterans experience all of the above situations!

Symptoms of PTSD                                                         

The signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually begin within three months of a traumatic event. But sometimes, PTSD symptoms may not occur until years after the tragic or traumatic event.  Following are some of the major symptoms of PTSD:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time that haunt the person
  • Shame or guilt
  • Extreme nervousness and anxiety
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Extreme irritability
  • Anger over petty issues with violent outbursts
  • Poor relationships
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Sleep disorders (nightmares and waking up suddenly during the night)nightmares
  • Loss of memory (forgetfulness)
  • Poor concentration
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the traumatic experience
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Hypervilgilance (very similar to, but not paranoia)
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Muscle aches and pains for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained fear

 How would you fare if you developed or experienced any of the above symptoms?

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Here is one soldier’s story: Kris Goldsmith

As soon as he graduated from high school, Goldsmith fulfilled his childhood dream of enlisting in the Army. …he was charged with documenting everything his platoon encountered. At first, he was reporting on the sewage, water, electrical and trash systems in the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City. But he soon found himself documenting Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence instead.

“There started to be a lot of murders in Sadr City. I was a 19-year-old kid taking pictures of mutilated men, women and boys and little girls. Those are the type of images that never really go away,” he recalled.

In late 2005, Goldsmith returned from Iraq. He found himself profoundly changed: drinking heavily every day, sleeping too much or too little, displaying an uncontrollable temper. Violence and physical fights became a regular part of going out with friends.

“With PTSD comes anxiety problems, depression problems … I get flashes of rage, which goes hand in hand with alcoholism I’ve been fighting since I got back from Iraq,” Goldsmith said. Note: Goldsmith did not have a drinking problem before he enlisted in the Army.

To read the full moving story, click here

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Another interesting article from Time.com about trauma and PTSD is that talking about the trauma may not always be helpful. According to the article, past studies have found a lack of convincing evidence to support the use of psychological debriefing to mitigate trauma – and some experts think the theory doesn’t hold up in every situation (Talking Out Trauma: Not Always A Help, June 5, 2008).

In fact, researchers at the University at Buffalo and University of California explored the question with 2,000 American right after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, and were surprised to find that participants who chose not to discuss their feelings right after the attacks often fared better over the subsequent two years than those who did. According to lead author Mark Seery, a psychology professorr at Buffalo, “We constantly tell people it’s wrong to hold feelings inside, but our findings [suggest] the exact opposite.”

In lighultimate_creativity_for_sitet of this one study, I wonder if the use of creative interventions would be helpful in treating and healing US troops diagnosed with PTSD. I strongly believe active engagement in the creative process can help heal these wounded soldiers – physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychically.  Remember, wounds can be physical, psychological, emotional and psychical- it’s the latter three types of wounds that can be the most damaging if left unaddressed.

If creative interventions are effective in cancer and chronic disease management, disease prevention,brain injury, dementia,cardiovascular accidents (CVAs), depression, breavement, pain management, peds, sexual abuse and AIDS, then surely, creative interventions will be effective in treating and healing soldiers with PTSD.  At the least, creative interventions should explored and hopefully implemented.  Perhaps some quality of life and glimmer of hope can be regained for those US soldiers diagnosed with PTSD, which is probably all of them.

If left untreated, PTSD could remain lifelong, damaging relations and causing  innumerable wounds – physical, spiritual, emotional and psychical.

 

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