PTSD in the Military
People who serve in the military are frequently exposed to traumatic events. Situations such as combat that lead to loss and fear, injuries sustained from combat, numerous deployments and military sexual assault all take emotional tolls on many service members.
Due to the tough challenges of military life and combat events, during which many incur psychological distress, further complications like substance use and mental health issues also occur. Many military personnel face issues such as trauma, suicide, homelessness and criminal justice problems.
The Military and PTSD Statistics
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration reports the following statistics regarding military personnel and veterans:
- About 19 percent of service members returning from the Middle East have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.
- About half of returning service members needing mental health treatment seek it, but only approximately 50 percent who do receive treatment receive adequate care.
- Approximately 7 percent of U.S. veterans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.
- Mental and substance use disorders were the leading causes of hospitalizations among United States troops in 2009.
- A recent report stated about 70 percent of homeless veterans also have substance abuse problems.
PTSD Signs and Symptoms
Commonly seen PTSD signs and symptoms include:
- Reliving the event(s)
- Avoiding situations that are reminders of the event(s)
- Feeling numb
- Increased emotional arousal
- Physical symptoms for no apparent reason
- Feelings of shame, despair or hopelessness
- Difficulty controlling emotions
- Relationship problems with family or friends
- Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
- Shifted beliefs or changed personality traits
PTSD Treatment Options
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment helps people regain a sense of control over their lives. The main treatment options are psychotherapy and medication. This dual approach helps improve symptoms and teaches skills to address symptoms and ways to cope if any symptoms re-occur (2).
Psychotherapy and medications will also aid in the treatment of other problems related to traumatic experiences, like depression, anxiety or abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Several types of psychotherapy are used to treat PTSD:
- Cognitive therapy helps identify and address the ways of thinking that lead to PTSD symptoms. An example of this is negative or inaccurate ways of perceiving normal situations.
- Exposure therapy is behavioral therapy that works to have people safely face what they find frightening. Coping skills teach how to deal with these fears.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) uses exposure therapy with a series of rapid, rhythmic eye movements to decrease the power of past traumatic event memories.
Some medications that can help improve symptoms of PTSD are:
- Antidepressants to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and concentration problems.
- Anti-anxiety medications to relieve feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Prazosin is used to treat insomnia or recurring nightmares.
All these treatment options can help PTSD sufferers gain control of lasting fears after a traumatic event.