Combating PTSD for Soldiers and Veterans
A few years ago, my mom told me that when my dad returned from serving in Vietnam, it took a while for him to stop throwing himself under the bed when he heard a helicopter flying above. Whenever I think about that, I wonder what experiences like the ones that produce such a reaction do to a person’s mental health.
Of course, when my dad returned from war in the late 1960s, mental health was rarely discussed in the armed forces, and there was little, if any, acknowledgement that mental disorders were often the result of being in combat. Soldiers were ill-equipped to recognize the signs of disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and embarrassed to ask for help. Things did not improve in subsequent wars, and the result was that many veterans suffered from substance abuse issues and marital problems or worse.
A study published in the March 1st issue of The Journal of the American Association, however, shows that the situation is improving. One in three soldiers returning from Iraq are visiting mental health clinics in the first year they are home, despite the fact that only one in twenty are referred for counseling by post-deployment screening. This seems to indicate that the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment is not as severe as it once was, the soldiers are better informed about the signs of mental disorders, or the more proactive approach towards mental health by the armed forces administration is paying off.
I have received heartbreaking emails over the years from people serving in the armed forces who were afraid to seek treatment for depression because of the damage it might do to their careers. They felt that their only option was to suffer until they retired from the service. I hope that things are indeed changing as far as stigma for all the members of the armed forces, not just for those who have served in combat, for their sake.