While we should appreciate our brave servicemen and women every single day, June 27th is designated by the United States Senate as National PTSD Awareness Day, which especially affects those in the armed forces. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition which plagues those individuals that have witnessed or experienced a single or multiple traumatic events. While these can include physical abuse, car accidents, or natural disasters, a large percentage of those that have experienced combat develop this condition. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) reports that “almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans; as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans; 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan; (and) 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans” have PTSD. Whether you are that individual, or your loved one has just come back from fighting for our country, it is important to look for signs of PTSD and get help if you believe that the condition may be present.
Symptoms of PTSD
There are a variety of symptoms associated with PTSD; individuals can experience some and not others, but it is vital to be familiar with all of them. Pacific Institute of Medical Research (PIMR) provides possible signs of PTSD, which can include:
- Re-Experiencing the Trauma – While one would think that after a traumatic event, a person would never want to remember it again, those plagued with posttraumatic stress disorder are forced to experience it over and over again through memories and dreams. They often have triggers, which are noises, visions or places, which remind them of the event. For example, a police siren can send PTSD victims in a state of anxiety as they remember the sirens they heard during war.
- Avoiding – Trying to avoid triggers and memories of the event, many of those suffering from PTSD will start to avoid certain situations or people. This can become very severe, limiting them to the confines of their homes, and preventing them from living a normal life.
- Numbing – Instead of dealing with their memories and feelings, some people suppress them by becoming numb. They try to teach themselves to not feel anything by not talking or thinking about the past. This can also carry over into regular life, with individuals losing interest in activities they were once passionate about.
- Hypervigilance – The opposite of numbness, some PTSD victims are constantly aroused, searching for signs of danger around them. They feel like they can’t turn off their fight-or-flight response, and are extremely anxious and nervous.
Tips for Treating PTSD
While there is no single PTSD medication on the market today that can make the condition disappear, there are tips that can help alleviate symptoms.
- Psychotherapy – Certain types of therapy, such as cognitive processing and prolonged exposure, have been found effective in alleviating PTSD symptoms. Trauma therapy has three stages; stage one focuses on “improving emotion regulation, increasing distress tolerance, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, cognitive restructuring, behavioral changes, and relaxation,” according to PsychCentral. Stage two is possibly the most difficult one, with the victims learning to reappraise their traumatic memories. During stage three, the individuals apply coping strategies for helping them deal with their past trauma.
- Natural Remedies – While many doctors prescribe drugs to deal with PTSD, there are certain natural remedies that have been shown to alleviate symptoms without any negative side effects. These can include homeopathy, such as Gelsenium, which can help stop the stress that something bad will happen in the future and Stramonium, which may lower anxiety and alleviate insomnia and nightmares commonly plaguing PTSD victims. Another great option is herbs that also help to lower stress associated with this condition; for example, Valerian root is beneficial in calming nerves and helping with sleep problems.
- Pets – Those that own dogs know the benefits of the unconditional love that our furry friends provide for us. It is a fact that pets can help PTSD victims deal with their symptoms. Dogs are great companions that provide comfort, fun and relaxation. Many veterans have found relief from the constant anxiety by adopting an emotional support dog that is trained to help individuals with mental health conditions, such as PTSD.
Unfortunately, many service men and women do not get help for their PTSD symptoms following a trauma. Some can’t afford medical treatments, while others simply don’t know where to turn. However, a great resource is PTSD treatment in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is located throughout the country. These medical centers provide access to medical doctors, medication and various types of therapies.
It is very important to keep an eye on friends and loved ones after they come back from a tour overseas. If you notice them withdrawing from everyday life, or the opposite, becoming extra vigilant and anxious, talk to them about getting professional help. PTSD has no cure yet, but symptoms are manageable with medication, therapy, other natural cures and with the love of family, friends and a loving pet.