October 2016 - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions, and there is a wealth of myths and mistruths that surround the condition. Many people, for example, believe that anyone who is exposed to trauma is given a diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder, whilst others don't believe that the condition exists at all.
In reality, PTSD is a long term psychological response to a life threatening experience or other significant trauma. Anyone can experience PTSD, although it is most common amongst returning veterans that have experienced combat, victims of rape or abuse, or those who have witnessed traumatic events such as a car accident, murder, or other significant incident. The symptoms of PTSD include suffering from flashbacks of the event, intrusive and distressing thoughts that you are unable to control, experiencing nightmares, emotional numbness and hyper-exaggerated responses to perceived danger. An estimated 8% of the American population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and PTSD affects approximately 8 million adults in any given year. The largest part of the American population to suffer from PTSD is the military population, particularly returning veterans. One in three returning troops are diagnosed with serious post-traumatic stress symptoms and go on to develop the condition. However a marked difference occurs in the treatment and diagnosis of PTSD amongst returning servicemen depending on their generation, which can prove fascinating.
A Question of Acceptance and Awareness
Current military veterans are often referred to as 'Generation PTSD' because of the high number of returning veterans that are presenting with the condition, when compared to the returning veterans of other wars. However that doesn't mean that PTSD occurs more in veterans of today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than it did amongst veterans of Vietnam and the Gulf War: simply that awareness means more veterans are receiving the diagnosis and treatment that they need. Vietnam war veterans, for example, are often known as the forgotten generation and whilst with hindsight we can see that many veterans presented with the symptoms of PTSD, they were often not treated and chose instead to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. More than 200,000 Vietnam veterans are still experiencing PTSD today, and yet many of those veterans were not offered treatment for their conditions until decades after they had returned from war. The prevailing attitude was to brush the war under the carpet once you had returned: not to talk about it, not to acknowledge your trauma, and certainly not to admit that you needed any help or support.
What's more, research conducted by Dr. Isabelle Mansuy and published in the Biological Psychiatry journal found that PTSD is more common amongst so-called 'second generation' survivors of trauma than amongst the general population. So, for example, if a father returns from Vietnam with PTSD and then his son decides to enlist and is sent to Iraq then that son is statistically more likely to suffer from PTSD than his colleague with no family history of significant trauma or PTSD.
Finding the Right Support Network
The good news is that PTSD does not last forever, and with the right treatment and support network the symptoms of the condition will begin to resolve themselves. However with a significant number of veterans choosing not to seek treatment and support for their condition, simply PTSD can become what is known as 'complex PTSD'; a condition that is more long term and more difficult to treat. That is why it is so important that those individuals in situations where known PTSD triggers are present (such as individuals in war zones or experiencing close combat) are closely monitored and supported as soon as any of the symptoms of PTSD begin to present. There is a rising suicide rate amongst veterans, and this is largely attributed to PTSD (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) so it is critical that veterans are given as much help and support as possible. The support of both their families and of the Veterans Association (VA) is essential in the battle to reverse this trend and help put struggling veterans back on the right path once more.
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