Patrick J. Skerrett

Honor a veteran; understand PTSD

My ability to sit peacefully day after day and write about health or enjoy my family owes more than I’ll ever know to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of American men and women who served in the Armed Forces. On behalf of my colleagues at Harvard Health Publications: Thank you for your service.


One of the challenges faced by many servicemen and servicewomen returning from war is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In a nutshell, post-traumatic stress disorder is a lasting and exaggerated reaction to a terrifying or life-threatening event. It makes a person feel like he or she is living through the event over and over again. PTSD shows itself in three main ways:

Re-experiencing. People with PTSD mentally relive the triggering trauma in daytime flashbacks, nightmares, or inescapable thoughts about the event. Sights, sounds, smells, or other stimuli can bring the event to life.

Avoidance. People with PTSD tend to avoid people, places, thoughts, feelings, and activities that remind them of the trauma.

Arousal. People with PTSD are constantly on guard against danger. They have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They tend to be irritable and have trouble concentrating. And they startle easily.

Traumatic events can create memories that are stronger, more vivid, and more easily recalled than normal events. These haunting memories activate brain circuits that are responsible for instantly responding to potentially life-threatening situations.

Most men and women who experience something horrific during military service don’t experience PTSD. But even if the rate is two in ten, as estimated for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s still thousands of people who come home wounded in a subtle, often hard-to-detect way. Research from Virginia Commonwealth University suggests that genes may play a role in who develops PTSD and who doesn’t.

Recognizing PTSD

How would you know if you or a loved one had PTSD? Think about these four questions:

  • Do you find yourself thinking about the traumatic event even when you don’t want to, or having nightmares about it?
  • Do you go out of your way to avoid situations, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of it?
  • Do you feel constantly on alert, or find yourself getting startled easily?
  • Are you feeling detached from family, friends, or other loved ones, or avoiding people or activities that used to give you pleasure?

Answering yes to some or all of these questions should prompt a talk with a doctor or counselor about being evaluated for PTSD or depression.

Recognizing PTSD is the first step to helping ease it. There are good treatments available. A type of talk therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be the most effective. Antidepressants and other medications can also help. Results of a study presented earlier this week at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2011 Institute on Psychiatric Services indicates the veterans of the current conflicts are less likely to seek help for PTSD, and less likely to take a full course of prescribed antidepressants.

If you know a veteran who seems to be having trouble adjusting to life back home, and who has the signs and symptoms of PTSD, talking about it with him or her would be a good way to honor that veteran’s service.

Excellent information about PTSD is available from the National Center for PTSD, developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Related Information: Harvard Health Letter

Comments:

  1. Harley Street Counsellor

    it’s not easy to be a military servant,in every war they encounter there is trauma and hurtful experiences

  2. Sally Marsh

    Great work keep it up!

  3. Bartholomew

    I just wanted to leave a simple thoughts to state that the site was awesome. I ran across it on the search engines seek right after going through a lot of other information that has been not likely relevant. I think I’d come across this much earlier thinking about how good the information is.

  4. Kaffeevollautomaten

    Thanks for the information. So remember the movie about the veteran. They tend to shy away from people and very stressful. What a pity. Hopefully through the program you are doing, can help their problems

  5. apri

    hi .. maybe I’m not that well known in the medical field but I prefer to health that is useful for everything in our lives, I came here because I like the new health topics, thanks for sharing all this info is useful for the public health world.

    thank you

  6. Anonymous

    Armed Forces good for this country

  7. Anonymous

    Hello, My friend is suffering PTSD when he was 23 years old, he got it after his family was in a vacation and had a car crash its been a three years since that happen, Now he is working in a veteran health center helping those PTSD patient.

  8. Anonymous

    it’s not easy to be a military servant,in every war they encounter there is trauma and hurtful experiences

  9. Anonymous

    Nice read. I just passed this onto a friend who was doing a little research on that. He actually bought me lunch because I found it for him! Therefore} let me rephrase: Thank you

  10. macalixter

    My mother was diagnosed with PTSD oh man what a difficult time.. and even worse that now she got older and the symptomatic seems to be more evident. I mean with the age the natural illness start appearing, that’s too sad.

    Recently she was in a doctor to see why is she having problem with saliva and losing her teeth. The doctor said that the PTSD causes it now she is facing her fearing of dentists, searching on internet I saw an interesting article on dentists who helped her losing her fear, at least reducing it.

    Well nice article.

  11. Anonymous

    Thanks for helping to shed more light on this tragically underdiagnosed condition.

    And it’s not only military vets who are subject to this diagnosis. A U.K. study led by Dr. Susan Ayers at the University of Sussex published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has confirmed that heart attack survivors may have a disturbing incidence of undiagnosed PTSD. Her research team found that 16% of cardiac survivors studied met clinical criteria for acute PTSD, and a further 18% reported moderate to severe symptoms. Dr. Ayers explained:

    “Feelings of fear, anxiety and depression are common after a cardiac event. The findings of this study suggest that a high proportion of survivors experience very severe distress. This has the potential to impair recovery, quality of life and threaten future health.”

  12. Carolyn Thomas

    Thanks for helping to shed more light on this tragically underdiagnosed condition.

    And it’s not only military vets who are subject to this diagnosis. A U.K. study led by Dr. Susan Ayers at the University of Sussex published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has confirmed that heart attack survivors may have a disturbing incidence of undiagnosed PTSD. Her research team found that 16% of cardiac survivors studied met clinical criteria for acute PTSD, and a further 18% reported moderate to severe symptoms. Dr. Ayers explained:

    “Feelings of fear, anxiety and depression are common after a cardiac event. The findings of this study suggest that a high proportion of survivors experience very severe distress. This has the potential to impair recovery, quality of life and threaten future health.”

    More on PTSD in heart attack survivors at “Not Just For Soldiers Anymore: PTSD After A Heart Attack” – http://myheartsisters.org/2009/08/25/ptsd/

  13. Carl Jones

    Hello my friend. I was diagnosed with PTSD after years of being treated for anxiety and depression. I started carving fruit and vegetables to become relaxed. I now am teaching ‘stress healing through multidimensional art ”

    I found personal healing through helping others heal..

    Thank you for continuing the awareness of PTSD

    Carl Jones

  14. Norman Shuman, LTC(Ret.)

    It is reassuring that awareness of mental disorders concerning our young women and men who are or who have served in the military is being shared. We are still failing these patients. There are so many who need health care and are on active duty, but the medical systems of the Armed Forces can not provide for these special wounded service members. Then, after they walk through the gates of the military base and back into civilian life, they do “disappear” and are becoming another lost generation, like so many others after our wars. I propose a dynamic, public health initiative, that will actively seek out and assess the status of our veterans, wherever they may be. Then, we get the better. Thank you.

  15. Rupam

    excellent job…!!! i love it…