The intense life and death world of combat can leave veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so severe they cannot feel at ease back in the world they fought to defend.
Veterans Affairs psychologist Doctor Sandra Gallagher says, “A lot of veterans report being uncomfortable in restaurants, Walmart, the mall, a movie, all of these places where it may be dark, it may be crowded, there's a lot of activity, or people moving around, they feel like they have to watch all the time, they have to be on guard."
That can drive someone to withdraw from life; as they do, their thoughts focus even more on the trauma that haunts them.
Doctor Gallagher says VA health professionals may recognize the need for PTSD treatment when a vet visits for other health care.
"They could be perhaps meeting with a primary care doc and say something like, 'Hey, you know, Doc, I have nightmares a lot. It's disturbing my sleep or whatever.' And that day, they can speak to a mental health professional, we have integrated primary care, mental health, and so they can speak to somebody that day."
HOW IS PTSD DIAGNOSED?
- Recurrent nightmares or flashbacks.
- Recurrent images or memories of the event.
- Intense distress at reminders of trauma.
- Physical reactions to triggers that symbolize or resemble the event.
- Efforts to avoid feelings or triggers associated with the trauma.
- Avoidance of activities, places or people that remind the person of the trauma.
- Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma.
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
- Restricted range of feelings.
- Difficulty thinking about the long-term future. Increased Arousal.
A person experiences two or more of the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Outbursts of anger/irritability.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Increased vigilance that may be maladaptive.
- Exaggerated startle response.
Veterans can also find PTSD help through telephone helplines, websites, or simply walking into a VA clinic. But they need to break through the reflex to just tough it out and repress the trauma and pain---sometimes for many years.
"A common phenomenon that we're seeing is that often, one of the styles of avoidance, if you will, is workaholism. Okay? So they'll get into the work life, and they'll work 80 hours a week, 60-80 hours a week, so that they don't have time to think about this stuff. When they retire...."
Treatment can take many forms but often vets are urged to write or talk about their trauma--often with other veterans--to relieve the pressure of holding in the hurt and take control of trauma that had controlled them.
Veterans Affairs: Where to Get Help For PTSD
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1 (text 838255)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255