Veterans and PTSD: What You Need to Know
As many as 20 percent of US veterans live with PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a life-changing condition that contributes to other problems veterans face, including unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, and physical health problems. Luckily, PTSD is treatable and manageable. Whether you’re a veteran with PTSD or know someone who is, this is what you need to know about PTSD, presented by the VFW Department of Utah.
PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs as a response to trauma. PTSD doesn’t only happen to veterans; people who experience or witness other traumatic events like natural disaster, war, abuse, or sexual assault may also develop PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD experience flashbacks, or relivings of traumatic events, and live in a constant state of hyperarousal. They may feel numb toward things they once cared about, develop feelings of hopelessness, and experience difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Many veterans go to great lengths to avoid reminders of their trauma. For some, this means turning to drugs or alcohol to avoid thinking about traumatic experiences.
The effects of PTSD ripple through families. If you’re the spouse of a veteran with PTSD, you may notice your husband or wife is less emotionally available or quicker to anger. Sleep disruptions may impact your ability to share a bedroom, and your spouse’s urge to avoid triggers may lead your family to spend more time at home than out in public or with friends. This can lead to feelings of isolation for spouses, which is why it’s important that a PTSD treatment plan includes the veteran’s family too.
With proper coping techniques, veterans and their families can live a normal life with PTSD. These strategies help manage and treat PTSD:
A strong support system reduces isolation and connects veterans with resources for treating and managing PTSD. These are the components of a good emotional wellness team:
● Social worker: Social workers are trained to diagnose and treat psychosocial problems, including PTSD. A social worker can help veterans improve their mental health and social functioning through treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. Licensed social workers have completed a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited US university.
● Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists prescribe medications to manage the symptoms of PTSD and co-occurring mental health disorders. Unlike social workers and psychologists, most psychiatrists don’t provide counseling. Psychiatrists are medical doctors trained in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.
● Support groups: Both veterans with PTSD and their loved ones benefit from support groups. Support groups reduce isolation by connecting people with shared experiences. Find PTSD support groups here. Veterans with substance use disorders also benefit from addiction support groups.
Exercising and sleeping and eating well promote mood regulation. Healthy habits also help veterans manage the physical problems associated with PTSD.
Believe it or not, but self-care extends to things like our jobs as well. If you’re unhappy with what you’re doing, practice self-care by taking steps to correct this issue. If you’ve always had a passion for teaching, for example, go back to school to get your teaching degree (online universities make it easier than ever to fit these classes into your schedule). Doing what you love can make a huge difference in how you approach the day.
Substances may help veterans shut off intrusive thoughts and get to sleep, but over time, substance use worsens mental health disorders. Seek healthier ways to cope with stress, like exercise and relaxation techniques.
Some veterans with PTSD benefit from service dogs. Service dogs can be trained to reassure a person with PTSD, calm anxiety and panic attacks, and retrieve medication. Trained service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
PTSD is treatable. A number of treatments have proven effective at minimizing or eliminating PTSD symptoms, including:
● Cognitive behavioral therapy.
● Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
● Prolonged exposure.
● SSRI medication.
Learn more about these treatments and others at the PTSD Alliance.
The hardest part of managing life with PTSD is getting started. Veterans face stigma and other barriers to PTSD treatment, but these shouldn’t stand in the way of veterans improving their quality of life. If you or someone you love is living with PTSD, move past the misconceptions and start forming your PTSD care plan.
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